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August 17, 2011 - The first new playground in Pontiac in 30 years is bringing smiles to the faces of kids and parents, thanks to the dedication of some Brandon Township residents.

Alec DuBay, a 15-year-old township resident, helped construct a "super play structure" from July 15-18 on a lot located at the intersection of Ferry and Jessie in Pontiac. While he was working along with dozens of other volunteers, a police officer stopped by.

"He said Pontiac has been so bad through the years, but it has been getting a lot better in the last year with all the help," said DuBay. "I like helping out and building stuff and we had a good time. The kids love it, they are down there almost everyday."

He added that the work was more fun than last year, when the park was first established, complete with groundbreaking and hauling in wheelbarrows full of gravel.

The Ferry Farms Playground Project, named after the platte ID on the county records, was the idea of Le Anne Schmidt, Brandon resident and school board trustee. Schmidt is also a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit organization that has built more than 50 new homes for low-income Pontiac residents, 16 of which are on Ferry Street alone. At a kick-off meeting for Habitat in January, discussion centered on what could be done to develop a sense of community in the areas where Habitat for Humanity homes have been built.

"It helps to support the families if they have a community support," explained Schmidt. "They are thinking for the community instead of themselves individually. I am happy to tell people, it had nothing to do with me, I am not an outdoorsy person, but my head was filled with this playground idea."

Because of the way the Habitat for Humanity charter is written, it was not something the organization could do, but they were able to provide land that had been donated to them that had been deemed unbuildable for homes. Two triangular shaped lots at Ferry and Jessie, between Woodward and Martin Luther King Boulevard, north of South Boulevard and a mile north of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital would be perfect for the project. Still, Schmidt had to find someone to deed the property to that would be willing to insure it.

"People said there was no way the City of Pontiac could be deeded the property, because they couldn't afford to insure it," she recalled. "After three months of beating my head against the wall, I thought it would fail."

The project was saved after Pontiac Councilman Kermit Williams convinced the mayor to do it, just 15 minutes before excavation on the property started for the playground in June 2010. About 40 volunteers moved gravel for three days and installed one small climbing structure. This year, around 60 volunteers added a super play structure with eight different activities, including a slide, a rope climb, and chin-up bar. A swingset has also been installed at the location.

The project has been funded through multiple grants from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (both the North Oakland and Southeast Oakland Chapters) and Kohl's of Auburn Hills Associates in Action program. Also contributing were local Lutheran churches who organized a bottle and can drive called "Pop Goes the Playground."

Andrea Banner, a Brandon High School junior, enjoyed volunteering her time this year to work on the Ferry Farms Playground. While she has gone on mission trips before, this was her first one in Michigan, and her first time actually constructing something.

"I felt better about it, because we're helping our own local community," she said. "The kids were really nice and we all got along great, like family working together. The kids, all you had to do was smile and they were automatically your friend. I've already made dates for going back and cleaning up the park and hanging out with the kids who go there."

Schmidt said regular trips are planned to return to the playground to maintain it and keep in contact with the neighbors.

"Keeping kids out of trouble in Pontiac and having a healthy place for them to play and exercise is invaluable," said Schmidt. "I thank God for giving me this experience, it's been life-changing for me."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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