What was a mostly empty lot in North Charleston’s Chicora-Cherokee community on Friday morning was a shiny, new playground filled with dozens of happy little children by nightfall.
All it took was about 75 volunteers, more than 45,000 pounds of mulch, enough new equipment to create a 2,300-square-foot playground, and a whole bunch of sweat and goodwill.
“They did a real good job,” said Bethaney Burnell, who lives nearby and brought her 5-year-old granddaughter, Ashanti Porcher, to the grand opening.
“She’s going to bother me to come here every day,” Burnell said with a smile, as Ashanti went down a sliding board for the upteenth time.
The playground will serve an area known as a struggling community that’s been working hard to improve. It sits adjacent to the Chicora Place Community Garden, where residents volunteer time and grow fresh produce and vegetable, but it’s also just one block from the former Navy base where a huge rail yard is planned.
“When I first moved here, this was a trailer park,” said Rev. Bill Stanfield of the nonprofit group Metanoia, which created the garden and was hosting a pot-luck dinner and outdoor movie following the playground opening. “The city bought it with greenbelt funds.”
So, the city had the land, on North Carolina Avenue at Orvid Street, and one of the city’s top companies, Select Health of South Carolina, had an ongoing program with the AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership to build playgrounds in poor neighborhoods.
And that’s how on Friday it came to be that local Select Health employees, along with 10 who flew in from the corporate office in Philadelphia, were at work moving mulch.
“Like the families in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood, we have been looking forward to this day for many months,” said Select Health Executive Director Cindy Helling. “This playground became a reality thanks to the support of strong partners and a welcoming community that told us how we could best meet the needs of the families who live here.”
Select Health worked with the city, Metanoia, and the Charleston Promise Neighborhood well ahead of time to get community involvement. Local children took part in an exercise to choose the color of the playground, blue, and some of the equipment.
For Renee McNeal and her 9-year-old twin boys, the playground project was a great stroke of luck.
McNeal moved into a house across the street from the playground just two weeks ago, when she relocated from Louisiana to take a job at Medical University of South Carolina.
“My boys have been waiting all week,” McNeal said at the grand opening, as her twins A’Kevion and A’Keviya disappeared into the mass of children on the playground.
The AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership has built 11 playgrounds, including two in South Carolina. The first was built in Columbia.
“Our experience has shown us that a playground is a fantastic way to keep kids and the community healthy,” said Maria Pajil Battle, president of the partnership.
The partnership is the non-profit arm of AmeriHealth Caritas, Select Health’s parent company. Select Health offers and manages the First Choice plan for South Carolina’s Medicaid program.
For all the public and private money that went into the project, all the thoughtful planning, and all the work, in the end it came down to a simple truth for those who live near by.
“It seems like a nice place for the kids to play,” said Ron Horlback, who lives a block away on Orvid Street, and has a 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552