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Posted on July 16, 2012

Eureka: A Community Builds a Playground with Help from PG&E, Employees

Eureka Playground

A group lifts a slide into place at Jefferson School. A community group has been working since the school closed to re-open its playground. (Photo by Amanda Tutera.)

EUREKA – In a single day, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, a playground went from vision to reality at Jefferson School on B Street.

On Saturday (July 14), more than 250 volunteers came to install swings and slides, to shovel and rake, to carry and haul.

That included 40 PG&E employees (and their families and friends) as well as other volunteers from the California Conservation Corps, the Eureka Rescue Mission and the local chapter of the American Red Cross. The Eureka Fire Department brought its ladder truck to help complete the project.

PG&E works with both the national organization KaBOOM! Inc. and selected local non-profits to design, plan and build a playground to meet the needs of their community. That includes having local kids come up with ideas to help design their perfect playground.

The Eureka event kicked off the 2012 playground-building season. Last year, PG&E built playgrounds in Santa Rosa, Fresno and San Luis Obispo County. Through 2012, PG&E will be building playgrounds in Sacramento and Bakersfield.

In Eureka, the Jefferson School closed in 2005, meaning the Westside neighborhood lost both its local school and its community space. Neighbors formed the Westside Community Improvement Association and started planning how they could restore some of what had been lost.

Eureka Playground

Working with Kaboom!, a national non-profit, PGE built three playgrounds in Santa Rosa, Fresno and San Luis Obispo County in 2011. And another was added in Eureka over the weekend. (Photo by Amanda Tutera.)

PG&E’s Franz Casasola and Loren Sharp spoke about PG&E’s connection to the local community. Casasola manages the Humboldt Bay Generating Station, PG&E’s natural-gas power plant that supplies energy to the North Coast. Sharp is a PG&E director and nuclear manager of the Humboldt Bay Power Plant in Eureka.

Sharp dedicated the playground on behalf of PG&E. He called the project a job “well done safely” and thanked “everyone who donated their time for the community and who participated in the days construction.”

As a final gesture, Sharp and Stephanie Martin, a director in PG&E’s community relations department, displayed a $75,000 check, representative of the company’s investment in the effort.

The check was received by Heidi Benzonelli, president of the Westside Communty Improvement Association, and leader of the Jefferson project. At the event, she spoke of how important the playground will be to the children of this neighborhood; the most ethnically diverse and low income area in Eureka.

Eureka Playground

So many people volunteered that no more could be accommodated at the site, and the playground build finished ahead of schedule. (Photo by Leslie Horak.)

The event attracted several local elected officials, including four city council members, the chairman of the board of supervisors and Humboldt County’s administrator. Local media covered the playground across TV, print and radio.

“This playground was important first step towards reenergizing this neighborhood,” said Amanda Tutera, the program manager in PG&E’s community relations department who oversees the playground builds. “And this kind of event not only benefits the area for years to come, but everyone one here walks away knowing that they are personally capable of creating positive change.”

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