- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

The District of Columbia Building Industry Association's 10th annual Community Improvement Day brought together architects, developers, engineers, lawyers, builders, contractors and landscapers with the residents from a Southeast neighborhood yesterday.
They all "got down and dirty" to give the popular Benning Stoddert Recreation Center in Southeast a whole new look and spruce up the surrounding 11 acres of land with trees, shrubbery, benches, tables, new asphalt paths and, of all things, a splash park.
Roughly 600 association volunteers and community residents, such as Brenda and Van Chambers, got up at dawn to put their hands and backs to work.
"Washington, D.C., is a beautiful city and we want to keep it that way. More people should get involved," Mrs. Chambers said with rake in hand, while her husband bundled up bags of leaves and debris from a wooded area close to the recreation center.
The Chamberses, who turned the day into a family affair, have lived near the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center for 20 years. Mrs. Chambers said she wanted her son, Rashad, 7, to get a sense of community and to learn about volunteerism.
Leonard Auchincloss, chairman this year of the Community Improvement Day, said the event was a complete success.
"What's so wonderful about the day is that the community and the building industry have come together to refurbish one of the District's underserved parks," Mr. Auchincloss said. "We have over 800 volunteers from church groups and schools, and students can get community service hours."
Mr. Auchincloss, 36, who works at Turner Interiors in the District, beamed just thinking about the new splash park and how everything came together.
"For me, to have the community participate will help us preserve the investment that DCBIA has made," he said. "This year, we converted a pool that was abandoned for four years and scheduled to be demolished into a splash park. It's lower water usage for the city and as much fun," he said.
Mr. Auchincloss said that more than 45 companies from the building industry participated in the annual Improvement Day and donated $850,000 worth of time, materials and labor. A core team has been planning the project since late spring.
Jim Draheim, vice president for project development at URS in Northwest, which he said is the largest architectural engineering corporation in the United States, spent his day on a scaffold with paint brush in hand, meticulously painting great white sharks on the walls of the center's indoor basketball court. The assignment for the day was a little off the beaten path for the executive, who finds clients for the firm and jump-starts their projects.
"It's kind of like painting by the numbers," he said, laughing.
Mr. Draheim, 40, arrived at 7 a.m. from his home in Arlington to find out where he was most needed. He even sent out a companywide e-mail informing staffers of the 10-hour volunteer event and got immediate responses from 18 to 20 employees.
"If I weren't here, I'd be running my children around to their activities, but this has really been a lot of fun," he said.
As volunteers toted wheelbarrows full of mulch hither and yon, Rodney Newman, 49, one of the ANC commissioners for 7A07 in Southeast, painted a pavilion on a hill that overlooks the recreation center. Mr. Newman said the pavilion would be a multiple-use area.
"We hold our ANC meetings here. It's an excellent facility," Mr. Newman said, "and we're moving it toward a multiple-use facility, with exercise classes for seniors, sports activities, games and educational programs for children. We've got to teach children that the recreation center belongs to them, and they should take pride in it and take care of it."
Sprucing up communities isn't new to Mr. Newman, who lives in Southeast and is the deputy director for the Clean City Office for the mayor.
"You couldn't keep me away from an event like this one," he said. "Anything that improves our environment and gives our young people hope. Cleanliness is next to godliness. You can't have young people growing up in filth and expect them to be productive the two don't mix. They've got to have positive examples," he said.

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