Helper's 'kid infrastructure' takes shape
While most of the infrastructure work going on in Helper is mundane, subterranean stuff like water, sewer and storm drainage, some above-ground improvements are bringing a dash of color and fun to the city.
New playground equipment is already going up in the city's main park and the Locust Street park will get some improvements soon.
As with the recent rehabilitation of the Pony League and Little League baseball parks, the playgrounds are the result of community involvement. You can call it community persistence, too.
"It has taken two years, but hard work pays off," said Heele Eden, one of the organizers of the ad hoc Park Partners group.
Eden said the drive began when she took her daughter to one of the city parks. "I took a look and said, No, this is not happening," she recalled.
So she talked to a few people who had similar concerns and things began to snowball. Trinity Kirby, Shelli Marvidakis and Heele's mother, Jodi Mascaro, formed the nucleus of the Park Partners.
The next step was to get some government support. They lobbied a councilman.
"I got the brunt of it," said the councilman, Kirk Mascaro. He's the husband of Jodi Mascaro and father of Heele Eden, "...so I wound up volunteering a lot of time," he quipped.
But he also agreed with the group: "That playground was pathetic," he stated.
Although Mascaro and his colleagues on the council supported Park Partners and understood the need to replace the dilapidated playground gear, there was not much they could do by way of municipal funding.
Helper is already bonded to the hilt because of the extensive, city-wide infrastructure rebuilding mentioned earlier. That's a $19 million project.
So, like the ballparks and seating in the city's Rio Theatre, it was the community that kept the momentum going. And, as it did for the Pony League Park, the Recreation/Transportation Special Service District invested in the project.
The RTSSD contributed about $56,000 to the $72,000 project cost, the councilman said. The balance came from the community in the course of two years worth of fund-raising.
"We had a 5K. We had the Helper Hair-Raising Halloween. We had buckets around town where people could contribute money. We owe a lot of thanks to the Special Service District," Eden said.
"We could not have done it without the community," she declared. Eden said Park Partners is going to commission a plaque to list all those who donated to the cause of children's recreation.
The playground equipment comes from Miracle Recreation, a Missouri company with a nationwide reach.
Kirk Mascaro said that the sales representative remembered working on the Locust Street park 33 years ago. "He was working for a different company at the time, but he remembered it because the city wanted a stainless steel slide."
That park was new at the time, having been acquired from the school district after the old Central School burned to the ground.
The main city park is even older, and so was its equipment.