“The playground brought our community together,” said Sekweha board member, Sherry Black. “We all found a need for it, and there was always talk of a playground, but it never happened. Once construction started the community felt there was a brighter future coming.”
“The children are very excited about the playground are many child-size footprints around the park. It’s already a success,” said fellow Sekweha board member, Jaime Harpe.
The children were included in the process of creating the vision by choosing their favourite equipment from the catalogues. Proximity to the youth centre and other community hubs was also part of the design. Of course Janvier’s winters came into play and a toboggan run is on the drawing board.
The playground will officially open in the spring of 2013. There was a big push to get everything completed in 2012, but the cold weather moved in before rubberized material could be securely placed. Once that is done there will be a soft landing spot for the children and work can begin on Phase II of the community park.
This community dreams big; the playground is the first step toward an all-ages community park. Phase II includes a skate park and walking trails, with placards spaced along the route telling the community history. Folks will have the option to rest at strategically-placed benches or try a few exercises listed at each of the placard stations. Phase III will include a splash park, a covered area, and a large fire pit that the community can gather around for events.
“The idea is to both preserve and teach our history,” said Jaime. “The park has been in the back of my mind for a long time. Many folks in the community have had the same wish. Once some of the youth from Sekweha came forward with their ideas it became an avenue to make things happen.”
“We divided it up into phases,” added Sherry. “We knew it would be easier to finance that way, and once there was planning in place we would get involvement from everyone.”
“I think the playground will be a good place for kids to go to burn off the excess energy and keep them from burning off that energy doing negative things around the community. The playground will give children and youth the opportunity to just be kids and play whenever they want.”
Cheyenne Black, Sekweha Youth Worker
Community involvement began even before any sod was turned. Jaime and her husband sponsor a Mud Bogs event for the community each year. They kindly kick-started the project by using the event as a fundraiser for the playground. They also generously donated big-ticket items for a raffle.
The quad and barbeque that were initially won at the Mud Bogs were generously donated back to the prize pool, which the Sekweha youth team quickly transformed into nearly $5,000 at a second fund-raiser. The momentum continued at the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA) Gala this past September. In total, community coordinator, Shirley Todd estimates that nearly $50,000 was raised for the project.
Jamie’s company, TJ’s Oilfield, donated their time and materials to complete the ground preparation; after that, the fun work could begin. The construction day remained rather chilly, but that didn’t stop an army of volunteers from coming out to assemble the giant puzzles into child’s play.
Board members, volunteers and Sekweha youth team worked until daylight disappeared. It was cold, but there were smiles all around as the work proceeded safely and right on time.
Jaime and Sherry agree that the vision is for a healthy, safe community and that the playground is part of a much bigger picture for everyone to be part of and benefit from.
“The playground was always in the back of the community’s mind but they didn’t realize how much more it could be. Now the dream is to have everyone use the space and to encourage healthy living and teach our kids their culture,” said Jaime. “It’s amazing to see the community take on the initiative and do this on their own. If we work together we can achieve anything. The whole vision of the park belongs to the community as a whole.”
“When you go into larger cities you’ll find parks, the green belt, the spray park, the skate park – rarely will you find those items in an Aboriginal community. The park is fairly huge compared to the size of the population in the community and I think that’s great,” said Sherry.
Now that the community knows how effective the Sekweha youth team and board are at organizing and running fund-raisers they can plan for Phases II and III to soon join the playground for an all-seasons activity centre.