District 1 residents work to revive playground, nearby neighborhood

Deb Cleworth
Daily Tribune Media
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Start Your Week with Kindness is a Daily Tribune Media feature that highlights the kind deeds of people in the community.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS – As a child, Chad Wirl grew up going to St. Lawrence Catholic School, and he often played at the playground across the street from the school.

Now an adult and Wisconsin Rapids City Council member representing the District 1 neighborhood, he saw a noticeable decline in the playground. The basketball backstop was falling down, the pipes were rusty and exposed, and the basketball hoops were not in good shape.

Yet, children still played in the area, Wirl said, and something needed to be done.

“So we put our heads together,” Wirl said.

Other groups took notice, including the Incourage Community Foundation, which awarded the the Neighborhood Volunteer Project a “What If?” grant — intended for resident-led projects that bring other people together to move a good idea to action, according to the foundation’s website.

The project also was fueled by in-kind donations from contractors who helped with services and tools.

The NVP might be considered an MVP — a most valuable project by those who rolled up their sleeves and got busy in May.

“Today, I’m so proud,” said Kathy Rash, the coordinator for the project targeted at cleaning up not only the park, but surrounding blocks. “You can look for blocks and blocks — it’s all clean.

“I call this teaching. You have to teach (people) to have a clean neighborhood.”

Recently, part of the neighborhood cleanup for District 1 included work on the old park, kiddy corner from the church. The project drew a number of volunteers who spent hours cleaning the park, cutting down broken tree limbs and uprooting old pine trees.

The project started about a year ago, Wirl said.

“We got together with numerous neighbors and volunteers throughout the community, and we just did it in our own little ward from Seventh to 17th in our (neighborhood watch) with some different crime and blighted properties,” he said.

The park project is a side group of neighbors of Ward 1, Wirl explained.

The group worked with the Police Department, the ordinance control officer and Planning and Zoning Committee. What followed was a spring cleanup and fall cleanup in 2013. The spring 2014 cleanup effort was a “huge success,” Wirl said.

But the group wasn’t ready to hang up the rakes and work gloves.

“We noticed there were a few properties and playground areas that needed some work, and just a good makeover — a renovation type of thing,” Wirl said.

Ongoing efforts will include a new pitchers mound, backstop, bases and home plate at a neighborhood baseball diamond, a renovated basketball court and new asphalt with painted lines. A concrete slab for a picnic table in a gazebo, and trash receptacles also are in the plan. Landscaping will include lilac bushes or hopa trees.

The neighbors are “delighted” to see the improvements, Rash said. Organizers say they hope to make the playground a safe, welcoming place to young children in the neighborhood.

“And grandchildren,” Rash said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to them using it.”

Children often played on the grounds after church services, Rash said. Though the project is not affiliated with the church, it seemed like a good fit following church renovations.

“So we wanted to add one more polish to this diamond — ‘diamond,’” she said with emphasis. “By having a diamond for the kids to come in and play.”

Deb Cleworth can be reached at 715-423-7200, ext. 6730 or Follow her on Twitter @DebCleworth.

Are you aware of an act of kindness?

If you are aware of a kind deed, please send your name and contact information with a description of how you were helped to or call 715-423-7200, ext. 6730.

Find out more about the grant

• “What If” grants are intended for resident-led projects that bring other people together to move a good idea to action.

• The foundation is looking for projects that: Start with a conversation among neighbors, connect neighbors in moving a ‘what if’ idea into action — using their own talents and resourcefulness, intentionally welcome and involve people and groups who may not customarily connect. provide opportunities for people to learn together while doing, provide opportunities for people to try out and grow their community leadership skills.

• Go to and click under“Get Involved” under the “Act” link for more information.


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