OAKLAND -- Once an empty grass field littered with trash and a concrete playground, Wade Johnson Park now has a colorful play structure with a slide and rock-climbing wall, a basketball court complete with bleachers, and an asphalt kickball field.
Thanks to a group of more than 600 volunteers who sprung into action at the request of Oakland schools police Chief Pete Sarna, the West Oakland park became a reality Saturday with the help of KABOOM, a nonprofit organization that builds playground structures.
The project was inspired by a neighborhood boy who one day yelled out to Sarna, "Hey, chief, can you come and play?" That was a year ago. Sarna responded to the call by looking into creating a safe place where children longed to play.
"I was tearing up driving in this morning," he said. "You can't pull something off like this without everybody's help.
"It's been great. I think when people see something good going on, they want to be apart of it."
A sign that read "Dream Playground Coming Soon" hung on an old fence as several organizations came together to work on various projects Saturday. Haley Wingard of Rebuilding Together and Wingard Construction assembled planting boxes. Volunteers from Pennies for Peace planted flowers in the new garden boxes underneath the fence where hand-painted butterflies hung.
Teamwork became the theme of the day.
"It's an incredible community effort," said Councilmember Nancy Nadel
Josephine Ayanko, 19, a UC Berkeley student, was among those who pitched in. "I was very inspired and rejuvenated by people coming together."
So was volunteer Michelle Conway, 15. "I like that everyone can get together without violence."
The Oakland School Police Department, which last school year moved into the former Cole Middle School that is adjacent to the park, became the driving force behind the project. The children in the neighborhood took interest in the black-and-white police cars and motorcycles, which sparked Sarna's vision for the playground. "Field of Dreams" became the backdrop, Sarna said: "If you build it, they will come."
Sgt. John Bellusa raved about the project. "It's one thing to talk about it, but you come here and see the power of the people that words can't describe," he said.
Councilmember Larry Reid shares a similar vision for his Elmhurst-East Oakland district. "I think it's incredible to make a difference in the lives of people around here."