WAVELAND, Miss. — When you have to start over, what do you build first? A fire station? A hospital? A home? In Waveland, they started with a slide.
On a small patch of land in front of what used to be the library, Jerry Flaming leads volunteers from a group called Kids Around the World, based in Rockford, Ill. Since 1994, the organization has built playgrounds mostly in far-off places like Krgyzstan, Estonia, Romania, even Thailand after the tsunami.
“The child's smile is the same whether they are from Asia or Europe or South America,” Flaming says. “They all have needs.”
Now those needs are much closer to home — like putting life into a town where it is suddenly difficult to be a kid.
Money to build the playgrounds comes from Rotary Clubs and the Salvation Army. Sometimes the materials are just donated.
“I can envision kids here and they'll be laughing and playing and parents will go sit over there on the benches,” says volunteer Ruth Gardner. “They're gonna have some time to smile.”
In just four days, Flaming and crew turn a land of devastation into a place of endless imagination.
“It's a good feeling about coming down helping somebody and you're actually doing something,” says volunteer Don Allen.
But the greatest reward is yet to come for these volunteers — it's pay day, as they cut the ribbon on the new playground. For Flaming this job brings a particular satisfaction. It's playground No. 50.
“This is the beginning of something new in the city,” he says. “And with that there is the hope that things will get better.”
There’s a new beginning in Waveland, thanks in large part to a man who, at age 62, has never forgotten what it's like to be a kid.
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