DCBIA, Volunteers Renovate Southeast Center
Ayana Bias recalled the pony rides, the basketball courts and the grassy open fields where she and others watched movies on the Silver Screen as children. She didn't have to think too long to quickly rattle off a list of nearly 20 years' worth of memories that she still holds dear. She flashed a wide smile as she reminisced about her time spent at a special Southeast recreation center.
Although she no longer calls the District home, Bias joined hundreds of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves on Saturday, Sept. 29 to spruce up the Congress Heights Recreation Center.
"I'm definitely glad to see that it's starting to come back around," said Bias, 30, who now lives in Ft. Washington, Md. "I think it's very important for us to get involved, beautify our community and unite with one another to really make a difference. A lot of people think that this is just a community recreation center, but it's so much bigger than that."
Since 1992, the D.C. Building Industry Association [DCBIA] has teamed with regional architecture, landscape and construction companies to give parks, schools and recreation centers curb appeal and so much more. Last weekend's event was no different during DCBIA's 20th annual Community Improvement Day. Volunteers arrived at the center's gates at the crack of dawn to provide a place for sports activities and a safe and beautiful haven for children to play.
DCBIA Executive Vice President Gail Edwards said a record-high 700 volunteers registered for the event, and by 9 a.m., more than 300 had already arrived – ready to work. For Edwards, the commitment and dedication of volunteers and DCBIA partners makes it all worthwhile.
"To me, it's incredible that all of our members are so supportive in coming out to do this," said Edwards, who lives in Northern Virginia. "They do it year after year and we couldn't do it without all of them. There are professional people here today trimming bushes and cleaning up. They're all dedicated people and we're very lucky to have them," she said with a smile.
The recreation center's grounds resembled a small construction site as the loud sounds of heavy construction equipment such as mini excavators blended with the screeching whirls of concrete-cutting saws that pierced the cool morning air, and the distinct smell of fresh-cut grass, wood and mulch lingered for most of the day. Volunteer toted gravel in wheel barrels, spread and raked more than 150 yards of fresh mulch and cleared the overgrown shrubs and foliage.
Renovation efforts also included improvements to existing structures. The recreation center's main facility, which is also one of the smallest in the city, received a much-needed facelift which included a paint job and a brand new mural.
Antoine Dotson gave up his Saturday to beautify his neighborhood. He spent the day planting daffodil bulbs, and an assortment of shrubs throughout the grounds.
"I live in the community and want to see it reinvent itself from the stereotype of what it used to be," said Dotson, 40, a human resources manager who works in the District. "It means a lot for the kids to have a safe place to come to after school."
Sixteen years ago, Michel Norton, 37, participated in his first DCBIA Community Improvement Day, ironically at the Congress Heights Recreation Center. Norton, whose company Norton Land Design, played a large role in this year's renovation project. Much has changed, he said, since 1996.
"The designs, contractors and whole game have been raised," said Norton, who lives in Ellicott City, Md. "It started out with us just planting and painting a building. Now, it's full-site design, providing an experience for the community with complete revitalization of a park. Every year it's grown – it's just an amazing event."
Lorenzo Simms, a basketball coach for the Academy of Maryland in Silver Spring, Md., showed up with six of his young players ages 12-14, to help out with the daylong project. While the members of his team live in White Oak, Md., Simms, 24, wanted them to learn the importance of community service.
"To come out, and to be able to help out another recreation center, is what I wanted my kids to volunteer to do. This is great," said Simms, who also lives in Silver Spring, Md. "There are African Americans, Asians and Caucasians who are all chipping in together. This is beautiful and a lovely thing to see and the kids love it. In two weeks, I want to bring them back here to see what they accomplished with their hard work."