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Community pitches in for New Ken school

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley High School students Melissa Anderson, a senior; Kelsea Enriquez, a junior; and Iziah Waugh, a senior, all from New Kensington, work to clear and level the ground for a bird bath at Greenwald Memorial School in New Kensington on Saturday, April 27, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Foreman Brian Shaffer with contractor Snider & Associates checks to make sure posts of new playground equipment are level as he and many volunteers install new playground at Greenwald Memorial School in New Kensington on Saturday, April 27, 2013.

By all appearances, scores of students and adults in New Kensington had no qualms about spending a beautiful spring Saturday morning at school.

But this was no regular school day — the volunteers were outside, working to improve the playground and landscaping around Greenwald Memorial School.

What started as a PTA fundraising project for new playground equipment at the elementary school morphed into a community event to make the school grounds a more inviting place.

“We never thought it would take off like this,” said Nicole Henry, PTA vice president. “The outpouring from the community is amazing.”

PTA President April Stone said the group began talking to district officials last summer about getting playground equipment for the primary school, which had only a small basketball court in the way of outside amenities.

A fundraising campaign was launched, and the community stepped up to fund the $11,000 in equipment, plus several thousand dollars more in landscaping and other materials.

Stone said the New Kensington Eagles' $5,000 donation was a big boost to the campaign.

The equipment, a primary-colored unit with two sliding boards and climbing apparatus, was purchased at a discount through retailer Snider and Associates and manufacturer BCI Burke.

As the PTA was planning to have the equipment installed, Comcast approached it about including the school in the company's annual Comcast Cares Day.

Company employees and their friends and families were expected to donate their time at more than 600 community projects nationwide on Saturday.

“We're honored to partner with the Greenwald Elementary PTA to work together to build a playground during our 12th Comcast Cares Day,” Jim Samaha, senior vice president for Comcast's Keystone Region, said in a statement.

“The hard work of the volunteers who will be donating their time to help make such a big difference in the lives of others is inspiring, and I am thankful to all of our participants who are helping to make the day a success.”

“They went above and beyond,” Stone said of Comcast, which also provided mulch, food and T-shirts in addition to volunteers.

Stone and Comcast spokesman Bob Grove said the company also planned to make a financial donation that amounted to about $18 to $20 per community member who showed up on Saturday — leading the PTA to urge as many people as possible to volunteer.

The effort paid off: an estimated 150 people registered. They were bustling around the school grounds; planting flowers; fixing basketball hoops; painting games and decorations on the asphalt; and installing an outdoor classroom with benches and planters in the shade of a flowering tree.

Stone said many Valley High School students joined the effort, which, in turn, helped them earn community service hours required for graduation.

School board members and Arnold and New Kensington elected officials also were on hand, and Superintendent John Pallone said public works crews from the two cities also assisted.

“It's a phenomenal project,” Pallone said. “To see the private sector, the volunteers and the public sector all working hand-in-hand to do something good for the youth of the community — it's a beautiful partnership.”

And the partnership reached beyond the two cities' borders. Helen Loscar of Washington Township joined the effort through her Squirrel Hill-based church, the Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ.

Loscar said this is the third year she has volunteered in conjunction with Comcast Cares Day. She spent the morning planting flowers at Greenwald.

“We were so impressed to see the young people here volunteering,” Loscar said. “It's a good thing.”

“It's a nice, positive thing,” said Michele Claassen, secretary of Greenwald's PTA. “We get a bad rap in New Kensington, but it's a great community.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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