USC Students Join in Sprucing Up Richardson Family Park
13 student volunteers help Van Buren Place Association members weed and tend plants in community park.
By Leslie Evans
USC's student volunteer program aims to make better neighbors. Saturday, August 23, was the date of the program's annual turnout of volunteers into the community to aid community groups in projects such as trash cleanups and grafitti paintouts. This year some 600 undergraduates, graduate students, and even a few alumni came out to work. Thirteen USC volunteers showed up at Van Buren Place at 9:30 am, armed with shovels, hedge clippers, gloves, and wheelbarrows to help weed, water, and mulch the landscaping at the nearby Richardson Family Park. The park was built by the community after a four year effort and opened to the public in June of 1999 at the corner of Budlong Avenue and 27th Street.
USC had a long association with the project, which began back in 1994. The park was designed by then-USC professor of landscape architecture Achva Benzinberg Stein. USC also funded an early stage of the park's preparation with a grant of $33,000 from its Community Outreach department. By the time it was finished the park project had raised some $500,000 in cash and donated land. It was spearheaded by local block clubs and the Esperanza Community Housing Project, as well as several other Los Angeles nonprofits. After the park was built the founders donated it to the City of Los Angeles and it is now part of the Department of Recreation and Parks. Jennifer Charnofsky of the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association was the coordinator of the park formation committee. She is also a skilled gardener and has taken a special interest in the plantings at the park in the years since. She was the one to welcome the USC volunteers on Saturday morning and take them to the park to work.
The first job of the day was to split the volunteers into two groups. Half went with Jennifer to the park and began weeding. The beds had become a bit overgrown in the four years since the park opened, as the Department of Recreation and Parks is short of staff and many Los Angeles parks, especially in the inner city, are falling into disrepair. Weeds were growing up among the trees along the east wall, and among the big rocks used in two spots in the small park to create natural looking areas. The students were quickly on their hands and knees as Jennifer showed them what were flowers and what were weeds. As areas were finished weeding they were watered with hoses brought to the park by the volunteers.
Back on Van Buren Place, Jennifer had arranged with the city to dump a large truckload of wood shavings in our backyard, to be used as mulch and ground cover around the Richardson Park trees and plants, and on the parts of the grounds that are not concrete. The mound stood five feet high. Undaunted, the students (actually including an alumnus, Almon Deomampo, whose wife Rhonda, a graduate student, had volunteered) picked up their shovels and dug in.
One neighbor, Van Buren Association Vice President Tom McCurnin, brought his pickup truck and three volunteers shoveled shavings into the truck bed while others filled those big plastic city recycling and trash cans that another neighbor had kept empty and loaned to the cleanup. As plastic trash bins were filled they were wheeled to the park and dumped at the base of trees. There the students in the park used shovels to spread the wood mulch evenly around the ground.
Tom arrived with the truck he and his wife, Jodi Siegner, filled plastic wheeled cans and wheelbarrows from the truck bed, as the USC volunteers then pushed them over to the places to dump them. Neighbor Leonard Delpit in his bright purple and yellow jump suit and shades cut a sharp figure as he dragged plastic bins and wheelbarrows from one end of the park to another wherever mulch was needed. As the day wore on, and a second truckload came and went, all the dirt areas of the park got a new cover of clean wood shavings.
Meanwhile some of the volunteers had long-handled clippers and were trimming foliage under Jennifer's direction and tending the trees planted along the sidewalks outside the park fence.
It was a job well done and the neighborhood extends its thanks to USC and to the student volunteers for their help in improving the place we live.
The USC volunteers were:
Rex Farrand, Kenya Cox, Mike Naple, Linda Hou, Blaise Nutter, Jessica Kohagen, Mark Hernandez, Lara Pulz, Katie Rheder, Erica Thompson, Rhonda Wolfe Deomampo (graduate student), Almon Deomampo (alumnus), and Michelle Mierz.