​From left, Servant Project participants Chris Becker,  Lucas Wiebe and Zeke Becker help to beautify Whitmore Playground, part of the community ministry of Rainbow Mennonite Church, on July 3 during MennoCon19. Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson.

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Wednesday, July 3, 2019

KANSAS CITY (Mennonite Mission Network) – Recent high school graduate Kent Enomoto of Fresno, California addmitted that even after sweating for hours on a very hot Kansas afternoon to help beautify a playground, watching the children play helped cultivate positivity.

Enomoto came to MennoCon19 with his sponsor, Lisa Penner, and high schooler Micheala Wenger of Mennonite Community Church in Fresno. They joined youth and adults from Emmanuel Mennonite Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, in helping to apply much-needed elbow grease for grounds upkeep to Whitmore Playground at Rainbow Mennonite Church in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City.

"I feel this project is having a direct impact on the children of this community, and that makes me feel good," Enomoto said. He explained that the last time he did a Servant Project, he pulled weeds, which didn't feel very impactful. But digging a hole to put in new piping so rainwater won't pool next to the merry-go-round – and watching the children play around him as he worked -- gave him "a sense of immediate gratification," he said.

Longtime Rainbow member Judy Selzer is a main keeper of the grounds and helped to supervise the volunteers. Selzer said she feels protective toward the property, and appreciated the youthful energy that brought some extra tender loving care to cause.

"With these volunteers, we have so many more pairs of hands, which helps us get so much more done in a short amount of time," Selzer said as she wiped sweat off her brow and reached for a rake to spread out mulch near the bushes. "It is really neat that these young people give of their time and energy."

Even as she worked, Selzer shared some back story on the property. It had been the grounds for Whitmore School, built in 1880 and torn down in 1973. The city had planned to turn the property into a toxic waste dump. But when the community and the congregation lobbied against that plan, the city allowed Whitmore Playground – and the surrounding green space -- to be created in 1977 instead.

"This area used to be filled with crime and graffiti, but I think having the playground here has helped to decrease that," Selzer said. "We can't be totally sure, but we think that because some of the youth played in this park as kids, they don't want to damage it."

Before leaving, Enomoto and several other teenagers took a whirl on the merry-go-round. For a fleeting moment, it seemed that the playfulness of the children -- laughing and climbing on the equipment as the volunteers worked -- had rubbed off.

Perhaps they had as much of an impact on Enomoto as he and his fellow workers had on them.   






​​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor for Mennonite Mission Network.



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