Giving Back to Bellevue
by Dan Cross
On a typical Saturday morning, there is nothing better than to just stay in bed and recuperate from the long workweek (and whatever you got into on Friday night). Right? So it’s all the more impressive that at 8am on Saturday, April 17, over 100 good citizens of Belleville were up and at it at Bellevue Park, volunteering their time to give the park an overhaul.
Jason Poole, Assistant Director of the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department, described the project: “We had a large contingent of volunteers who did work staining, and spreading mulch, staining, and spreading rip rap along the shore of the lake. We brought in around 130 tons of rock and the Lindenwood University Football team spread that in about 45 minutes. We also had about 36 tons of rubber mulch made from recycled tires that we spread, and Americorps was a big help with that.”
The project was made possible by a grant which Belleville was fortunate to receive from the Building Better Communities initiative, a partnership between the National Recreation and Park Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting public parks, recreation and conservation, and the American Water Charitable Foundation, an effort created by the water company to give back to the communities where the company and its employees live and work. Over 150 cities applied for the Building Better Communities grant, and Belleville was one of only four lucky recipients.
A condition of the grant was a community work day, and the people of Belleville responded in a big way. Many of the volunteers were employees of Ameren and the Illinois-American Water Company. Jamie, a volunteer from Ameren, explained why he and his co-workers came. “We like helping out; we understand that we’ve been blessed, and it’s just a nice thing to give back.”
Many other volunteers were from Americorps. While spreading recycled rubber mulch, one of the Americorps workers told me what brought her out on a warm Saturday morning to do manual labor: “I’m here because I honestly love giving back. I feel like this is an important thing to do; if you want your community to look good, you have to do something about it. That’s why I’m out here.”
A major focus of the work was the new Natural Play Area at the park. As an alternative to the metal and plastic playgrounds found in most parks, the Natural Play Area is made of mainly organic materials: Rocks, logs, sand, and water.
Jimmy O’Connor from the National Recreation and Park Association was on hand to join the volunteers putting the finishing touches on the play area, spreading mulch, planting a butterfly garden, and staining the new gazebo and wooden climbing wall. After the work was finished, he explained the goals of the project. “Natural Play Areas like this one are an important feature in getting kids back outdoors and reconnecting to the natural environment. Kids are able to run on logs, play with boulders, there is moving water they can manipulate, they can play in the sand pits, and there are lots of things for them to climb on. Belleville is really on the cusp nationwide of providing these amenities to people in the community. We look forward to using this very successful project as a model for other communities.”
Over two dozen employees from Illinois-American Water Company also joined in the work. Dawn Tomlin, spokesperson from the company, explains what brought them out. “People really gravitate to these type of community events where you can come out and give back; it’s so pretty here and just to know that we’re going to have a park that will be here for our families and friends for years to come is really touching.”
After the work ended at about noon, volunteers prepared lunch for the workers. I would have thought it impossible to cook enough hot dogs for an entire football team and all the other workers, but somehow, they did it. After everyone recharged with hot dogs, chips, soft drinks, and a truck full of delicious cold water (provided by Illinois American Water), Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert personally thanked the volunteers.
“What you helped us do today, our staff couldn’t accomplish in weeks. When you get people, like all of you here today, working for a common good, Belleville’s got a bright future.”
401 Bellevue Park Drive
Belleville, IL 62226