Beverly Walker can't decide what she likes best. The swings are a favorite, of course, but she also likes playing ball under the towering elm tree that shades most of McKendree Day Care Center's newly completed children's park.
Called a playground by some and a garden by others, the park is between Hoover Road and Lawrence Street NE, just a few skips across from the center where Beverly spends most of her weekdays. In the limited but emphatic expression of a 3-year-old, Beverly says of the new park, "I like it a lot."
Since early spring parents and volunteers from the Woodridge community in Northeast Washington have spent most of their weekends cultivating the four city blocks into what they say they hope will become a "children's paradise." They also are hopeful that the half-acre, owned and originally purchased by McKendree United Methodist Church for a parking lot, will be a natural teaching environment for city youngsters.
Last Saturday a band of parents, staff and children from the day care center had a good old-fashioned picnic in the new park. There were games, arts and crafts and even a clown to help the group of about 50 celebrate the coming of summer and the completion of most of the work in the park.
The wooden playhouse, brightly colored animals that rock back and forth on huge springs and sliding board are in place now. Soil has been cleared in a far corner of the park for a vegetable patch and for a stone campfire ring in another corner. Tiny green peaches have fulfilled the legacy of flowers that only weeks ago colored the scene.
"The playground will be equipped for use during every season," said Sylvia Smith, who is director of the center and head of the team that has been working in the park.
For the 60 students at the center, the park just opposite it may help to teach the concepts of natural environment and growth that "urban children have lost or missed," Smith said. In a recent conversation she explained that many of the 2-to 6-year-olds at McKendree live solely "in a concrete, man-made environment."
The idea for the park arose because of the lack of neighborhood play facilities for young children in the city, Smith said. Now the children will have a place to go outdoors every day, "sometimes all day." She even wants the children to bring blankets so they can nap outside in the afternoon shade among the squirrels and birds in the park.
In March, before most of nature's abundance was apparent in the park, McKendree Church held ceremonies there dedicating the surroundings to Roland L. Green. A church member, Green developed the idea of having a day care center in the church's three-story brick educational building, and worked to establish it. He died at 33 of Hodgkins disease when the center was just starting in 1973. The park named after him has been on the drawing board for two years.
"We have been moving slowly so our costs don't outweigh our finances," said Johness Greene, chairman of the McKendree Day Care Center Board of Directors. Greene, whose son's name is etched on the aluminum plaque between the orange and gold zennias at the park's entrance, said the center is generating enough money to pay all costs for developing the park in spite of the lack of public or private subsidies. "We are taking profits from the school and putting the money back into the center," she explained.
Other leaders attribute the comfortable financial position at the center to Greene's step-by-step approach. They insist there have not been any real financial problems in funding the park although, when buying play equipment, they sometimes have had to compromise on size - but never quality. Only national park standard equipment is being purchased, according to Greene.
About $11,000 has already been spent on the project, mainly for equipment, fencing and a brick wall at the front of the park.
Many of the expenses, however, are being absorbed by donations and services offered by parents and members of the community.
Lenair Williams, an architectural designer from the neighborhood, volunteered to landscape the park, a job involving, among other things, the arrangement of the cherry and nut trees, a budding grapevine, rose bushes and three peach trees.
Greene is working on organizing more activities in the park for older children since the center is having a day camp this summer for children up to 12 years old. "We could put up a basketball hoop or maybe even a tennis court," she suggests enthusiastically although there does not appear to be enough space for either.
Even the church parking lot hasn't been written off completely. There is a circular driveway around the park that will hold about 10 parishioners' cars when the park is not full of youngsters.
The idea for the park came about because of the lack of neighborhood playgrounds, said Smith. "Most of the ones that are even considered end up as mudholes."