More than 300 volunteers helped makes a fitness area for children

More than 300 volunteers helped transform an underused parcel of land into a vibrant fitness park and recreation area at Sunshine Acres Children’s Home in Mesa.

For the second straight year, a record number of volunteers participated in Valley Partnership’s 29th Annual Community Project on Nov. 5.

In addition, a total 89 corporate sponsors contributed more than $200,000 as 35 contractors worked onsite for weeks to prepare the site.

“This is what Valley Partnership is about, giving back to the community,” said Cheryl Lombard, president/CEO of the organization. “It is our core. We want to do what we’re good at, and our members are good at building stuff.”

Community project co-chair Kim Kleski of Olsson Associates said the project culminated “a lot of hard work and planning.”

“It’s heartwarming to see so many people come together and build a park that will forever help the children of Sunshine Acres and also serve as a legacy to Valley Partnership’s commitment to support community,” Kleski said.

  Using the site plan designed by Tom Durant of Anderson Baron, volunteers took to the sprawling property to lay sod, assemble and paint benches and spread decomposed granite around the grounds.

The intent of the project was to bring in elements that Sunshine Acres didn’t already have for the children, including fitness stations, recreation areas and games.

“Once we selected Sunshine Acres, we met with them to better establish the need and create design concept,” said Co-Chair Aaron Parenica of Stantec. “We also immediately started talking to the membership, soliciting donations and lining up the contractors.”

Parenica said Sunshine Acres stood out in the selection process because of its unique business model and the type of work that it does.

“The fact that they don’t take government funding, they rely on the community to support them, that was unique,” Parenica said. “The number of kids they help, it’s just amazing. The project that they had in mind was a very good fit. That’s what made them stand out.”

Sunshine Acres has helped to house and protect more than 1,900 children since it began operations in 1954. Its mission is to provide wholesome homes for children that have been rescued from abusive situations or family members that are incapable of providing for them.

When completed, the park will include seven workout machines, a large grassy area, benches and ramadas, and a “gaga ball” court for a version of dodge ball.

Jon Markwell, facilities director at Sunshine Acres, said fitness was a primary motivation behind the plans for the park.

“It’s so important to keep them moving,” Markwell said. “A lot of people like to stay home and play video games, but this way, they can go and work out on their own.”

 Markwell’s wife Shara said Sunshine Acres staffers are grateful for the volunteers.

“It means the world to Sunshine Acres to have Valley Partnership out here doing this,” Shara Markwell said. “This is not a park for us, this is something long-term. This is more than building a park, this is building a community and a relationship that’s going to last for a very long time.”

One of Valley Partnership’s cornerstones is community service. Each year, it selects a non-profit organization that can benefit from the skills, efforts and supplies provided by its partners to renovate and enhance facilities for children and those in need. Valley Partnership has now contributed more than $4.2 million to the community through these projects.

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