January 09, 2012 — Coral Gables — Still overjoyed with their remodeled playground more than a week after it was unveiled, 3-year-old Gabriel and about 20 of his classmates at the University of Miami’s Linda Ray Intervention Center hardly noticed the group of adults who visited their special-needs school on January 5 to watch the children scamper about in their refurbished play area.
A new wooden house and slide, a mural of a jungle scene with animals, and sporty new tricycles proved too much fun for the group of adults to compete for the attention of these energetic tykes.
But that didn’t bother Noelia E. Moreno, the immediate past-president of the Latin Builders Association (LBA), which funded the playground’s makeover. She was just happy that the new play area “will help enrich the lives of children at the center for years to come.”
Moreno, a UM alumna, was part of a contingent of 15 that showed up last Thursday to dedicate the playground. Built in 2005, it was beginning to show wear and tear from tree roots that were uplifting its foundation.
“We spent most of 2011 figuring out how to pay for the renovation,” said Lynne Katz, research assistant professor and director of the Linda Ray Intervention Center, a UM Department of Psychology program that serves newborn to 3-year-old children who are developmentally delayed as a result of abuse, neglect, or prenatal exposure to drugs. “We’ve struggled for the past year with the little bit of seed money we have, and whatever funds we get are used to pay for other projects. So the renovation of the playground kept getting pushed to the back burner.”
With 2011 quickly coming to an end, Katz and other workers at the center would see a project delayed turn into a priority. The LBA’s Children and Families Foundation had been looking to complete a community service endeavor as part of its philanthropic mission, and when UM contacted the organization about the center’s need for a new playground, “I just knew that this was the perfect project for our foundation,” said Moreno.
After assessing the playground’s needs, volunteers from the LBA and Miami-based Link Construction Group arrived at the center one day during the Christmas recess and quickly got to work, leveling the playground’s foundation, repairing the chain-link fence and gate, spreading synthetic mulch, and replacing rotted wood.
The LBA donated new playground equipment, while LBA volunteers, who also came from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, installed a mesh canvas on the fence that surrounds the playground, adorning it with a mural painted by local artist Pedro J. Rubio.
Volunteers completed the renovation in three days.
“When the playground opened on Tuesday after Christmas, I can’t begin to describe the reaction of the children,” said Katz. “They were pointing and pulling on the legs of their teachers. They knew something had changed. They’re so young, but they can still differentiate between new and old.”
The playground’s new toddler-size wooden schoolhouse is a favorite among the children, said assistant teacher Margarita Cartwright, who has worked at Linda Ray for 18 years.
Katz said the new playground is an ideal learning environment, teaching children how to work out problems of climbing over and under objects and cultivating social skills such as sharing.
A pressing need for the center now, Katz said, is to keep its last remaining transportation van on the road for the most needy children living the farthest from the center to get to and from school.
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