picture of finished playground

(Article Reprinted from 2013) BUILDING FROM INDIVIDUALS ON UP!!

(First Printed on June 30, 2013 on Blogger.com) by:  Cathy Ostrum

Twenty-thirteen has been quite a journey for me personally and for Hometown Mentors, Inc. (HMI) over all. My dream, which started in 2006 during our high school reunion planning, of building up a whole community and putting smiles back on faces, got traction just this year, and began to be realized.  Understandably, there is much work to be done (never ending, in fact), This essay will take a look at what we have been able to start over a relatively few months of existence for our new nonprofit organization.

March of 2012, six years after the idea of HMI formed, an arsonist and other actors put fire to a building that held many memories for me, HMI’s Founder.  Initially thought to be a very bad event, Hometown Mentors and friends of Prospect Park have turned it into a very good event. This is that story.

While people speculated on who started the fire and why, police had charge of finding the culprits and charging them with the crime of arson. (period, end of that story)  During that investigation, however, it became clear to individuals that something had to be done with the 60 year old community building damaged by the fire.  Thinking that this facility was operated by the county, some wanted to tear it down as an eyesore and trap for vandals.  Others felt adamant that the building should be repaired and not destroyed.  Many hadn’t even thought about the building in years.

Then one man obtained a copy of the deed which is recorded at the Cameron County Court House.  The land had been donated by his parents, in October, 1949, following Gene’s return to Emporium as a WWII hero.  It was donated to the unincorporated, Prospect Park and Area Association.  The dream was then established that the land would be used perpetually as a playground for any child to play.  So the spark gleamed in the ashes.

None-the-less, zero dollars and zero insurance were in the bank account of the Prospect Park and Area Association, which had been inactive for years. There was also zero hope that anything could be done to improve that financial situation, given the recent hard economic times and decline in numbers of kids at the park.

Pictures of the fire trucks putting out the fire were posted to the Prospect Park Kids site on Facebook, which is a closed site and only for those of us who grew up in Prospect Park to reminisce.

We learned that one man, had been mowing the lawn and maintaining the ground at the playground for 20+ years and one woman had, recently, helped her kids and others clean up the weeds and trash, she held craft sessions and games for her kids and others at the facility.  Few in number, none the less, she wanted her kids to have a safe environment to play, away from the bad influences of older kids.

The kids agreed and created videos about the facility, focusing on picnic tables that need to be fixed and repairs to the roof because of the fire.  A few gathered to say they were willing to work for an open safe area in order to be physically active and play.  Some wanted an ice cream parlor there and the spark grew larger.

HMI, these individuals named and the kids carrying on the play at this facility, fanned the spark that brought about a revitalization effort for Prospect Park Playground.

There was a nostalgic reunion of people on line and in Cameron County, who love the playground, whose parents donated the land, who grew up playing on the swing set and merry-go-round and most importantly, a reunion of people who didn’t want to see the demise of this facility because our friends and family still live in Emporium, no matter the small number.

Funny thing was, most of us had not even thought much about the playground in many years, until the Prospect Park Kids site was created on Facebook.  Then, only months later, this arson happened and a “rally cry” was heard in Emporium and around the United States from people who love this hometown.

HMI’s mission, no matter the number of people living there, is to bring back hope to hometowns, and this arson event, paved the way for Emporium to be the first hometown (pilot hometown, if you will) for Hometown Mentors.  Hometown15834 is now established.

Having received major gifts of $2,500 from May Hollow Sportsmen’s Club, and $1,400 from Laurie Keenan in memory of her father, Kurt Keenan (longtime residents of Prospect Park), along with many contributions from friends and companies, rebuilding began at the playground.

A new roof was installed on the community building with all volunteer labor and all the shingles were donated by L&M Lumber, whose business operates within the association limits.

picture of L&M forklift
Mike Songer and L&M Lumber Co. helping at Prospect Park Playground

A playground supervisor was hired on June 10th.  Alyssa Hunter is a recent graduate of PSU with a major in Kinesiology, Health and Physical Education.  Working for minimum wage, and waiting for a full time phys ed teaching job, Lyssa has been a great addition.  She makes and plans the daily activities to include organized sports like tennisball (which is baseball played with a tennisball) Kan Jam (don’t ask me what that is) kickball and many other fun team sports along with regular play.

A playground design engineering firm has been contacted and designs received for consideration by the Prospect Park and Area Association.  Completion of the entire playground equipment build is set for May 31, 2014.  This will be a year long activity involving full community support and it will be volunteers, under the direction of the engineering company, who will install and build the playground.

Other additions such as a computer monitored security camera system, liability insurance and sports equipment were all purchased locally or with gifts from Wal-Mart, Inc.

Thank you to all the unnamed companies and people who have spurred on the energy and enthusiasm to date in getting this revitalization spark fanned and glowing.

My heart is bursting with love for Emporium, Cameron County and all the people who never give up on their dreams.  People who continue to take one more step, even when hope is small.  People who refuse to give up on each other and the good of people in general and family and friends in particular.  Remember the song says, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  This time, it was a fire that sparked a whole town to come alive with hope and encouragement and fitness and a new zest for life and for our children’s play.

HMI would like to ask for your financial support so that this and other projects in our hometowns can be realized.  You may volunteer your time for our FOG (Feet On the Ground) committees by sending an email to cathyostrum@hometownmentors.org or snail mail to:  Hometown Mentors, Inc., PO Box 438, Emporium, PA  15834.  

We also solicit your financial contributions for Hometown Mentors.  We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit, public charity.  You may mail any contributions to the mailing address above in Emporium.  Or click on our Donate Now Button at the top of this page.

Hometown Mentors, Inc.:  “Trusted friends giving back to our hometowns.”  #givingbacktothefuture of our hometown.

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