For five days, something extraordinary took place in Idyllwild. Once again from across the community’s diverse demographic makeup, volunteers came together to build something, on a scale of effort, integration and cooperation not seen since the community built Town Hall in 1946, in old-fashioned barn-raising fashion.
The resulting environment — “playground” is an inadequate word to describe the interconnected compelling structures and spaces adorned with original art — is beautiful and filled with places for children to experience joy, discovery and wonder.
“I think we’ve created a piece of Disneyland right here in Idyllwild,” said Ken Dahleen, one of many local volunteers who were there each day from first to last work shift.
Noting the high level of construction expertise and technique, and the unique art that decorates the structures, sometimes in places only little children can access, Dahleen continued, “If we took this entire thing down to Disneyland’s parking lot, their art department would take it in and install it as is. The quality and hand-rubbed finishes are up to Disney standards.”
But it was the process of the community coming together to build the playground, as much as the end result, that caused many, including some fairly hardened and burly men, to tear up when discussing what they had experienced. “The level of this is amazing,” said Rick Foster. “All the people who showed up, the good feeling, the cooperation.” And trying to recount more, Foster, who managed the tool dispensary among many other responsibilities, had to turn away with tears welling in his eyes.
And over the five days from Wednesday, June 13, to Sunday, June 17, the story really was about the diverse cross section of those who showed up, to pitch in and serve: Regina, who helmed a saw and swung a hammer every day of the build; Christian, 16, who had come up from Fontana to spend time with his dad and apologized for being a little grumpy as he painted one of many structures. “I had to get up so early,” he said. He had been there with his dad Robert every day of the build from early morning to evening. “Here [Idyllwild] you can be yourself,” he said. “There are so many different kinds of people, but they’re nicer than people down below.”
Another father and son, these two from the desert, who had come up to go hiking for an extended Father’s Day weekend, stopped by the site to inquire what was going on and stayed to build for each of the five days; Ann, whose husband Cid worked in the construction crew, and had stated she was not into building, found a job signing people in and serving food. “I’ve never lived anywhere where the community was so involved,” she said.
Volunteers included couples and singles, gay and straight, old and young, residents and visitors, Army enlistees, Target and Allstate Insurance employees, nonprofit groups (the local Rotary, quilters, PTA, smARTS, Art Alliance of Idyllwild and others), as well as playground supporters and initial doubters. All got caught up in the excitement of creation and cooperation of building a playground that, in the process, helped to bridge some of the community’s divisions.
“This was the vision of three women,” said lead organizer and playground advocate Dawn Sonnier at the Sunday dedication. Sonnier, Claudia Posey, Emily White and their families, along with the Idyllwild Community Recreation Council, believed the community needed a place for children to play and old and young to congregate.
“Children are our community and that’s why we did this,” said Sonnier at the dedication, tears welling as she thanked her 10 construction captains and the many critical volunteers, local business people and organizations who showed up to make the women’s vision a reality. “This was an event that brought our town together. May you all be safe and may God bless all the children who play here.”
Claudia Posey acknowledged Sonnier’s lead role in bringing their shared vision to a perfected reality. “What you’ve done has meant the world to everyone involved, to the children to their parents and to generations to come,” she said.
Sonnier summarized that weekday mornings saw 150 to 175 volunteers on site, afternoons averaged 125 and evenings from 50 to 75 volunteers. “We met our goals for sure, especially since we finished with everything at 1 p.m. on Sunday, well ahead of schedule,” said Sonnier. On Monday morning, June 18, Leathers and Associates inspected and certified the playground as being safe for use. And each day since the dedication, children and adults have come to enjoy the new enviroment.