Children rebuild playground destroyed by wildfire

May 19, 2012 4:53:33 PM PDT
The tri-county wildfire raged through Grimes, Montgomery and Waller counties last September, scorching thousands of acres, burning down homes and forcing mass evacuations.

A playground in Magnolia's Ranch Crest subdivision was part of what was burned to the ground. On Saturday, some of Montgomery County's youngest citizens came together and led an effort to rebuild it with Project HOPE.

You notice the devastation first -- scorched trees and grass. But look farther and you can see a little bit of hope.

"The park was all the bad things in the world, and when we rebuild it, it's going to be like hope brought back into our community," Noah Bryson, 11, said.

Magnolia ISD middle schoolers who are part of Project HOPE (Helping Others Play Everyday) were planting trees, spreading mulch and even shoveling dirt.

"It's the right thing to do, and I just want to help out my community," 10-year-old Logan Purbis said.

And he had plenty of help.

Parents and volunteers from local businesses and the Texas Forest Service were getting their hands dirty as well.

The kids earned a $15,000 grant for Project HOPE and collected $20,000 in donations to help pay for new playground equipment, benches, picnic tables and landscaping for the park.

"They need someplace to be a kid. So when we saw this park was burned, we saw the playground and we knew that we had to do something," 11-year-old Emily Ashlock said.

What once was an active playground serving children in several neighborhoods was left with a melted red plastic roof and a scorched play area. You can still see the charred and burned trees -- reminders of wildfires that swept through the area for three weeks last September.

Firefighter James Bryson helped contain the flames. Now he's watching his son, Noah, volunteer to rebuild the park.

"I had no idea what this little guy could do," Bryson said of his son. "Him and a bunch of his friends, a bunch of sixth and seventh graders. So, to me, it was a little bit overwhelming coming here."

"These kids have been an inspiration to me to not quit, to not give up," Cherrie Edwards said. "Adults tend to kind of become so mature or jaded and just not believe that dreams can really come true, and the kids have taught me that it can."

The participating students meet each week after school to participate in the Community Problem Solving Program, which is a branch of the Texas Future Problem Solving Program funded by the Texas Education Agency. Project HOPE is in the running for several national community service awards.

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