Under a broiling sun with high humidity and temperatures rising above the 90-degree mark, an estimated 500 to 600 volunteers from in and beyond the Perry Hall area Friday kicked off the first of a 10-day effort to build a 2-acre Angel Park.
The $1.5 million project, which includes a 16,500-square-foot playground and a 200-seat amphitheater on a footprint adjacent to the Perry Hall branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on Honeygo Boulevard, should be completed and ready for a grand opening by the end of August, said Angel Park spokesman Andrew Hacke.
The reason for the delay from the anticipated completion of the playground July 18 until the official opening is because the professional construction crews still must complete the amphitheater and put down rubberized surfacing on the playground.
Landscapers will then put the finishing touches on the park, said Paul Amirault, Perry Hall Recreation Council treasurer and Angel Park site manager.
The idea for the park came from the tragic loss suffered by Kelli and Andy Szczybor, whose 15-month-old son, Ryan, died after a nine-month battle with leukemia 19 years ago.
While still mourning for Ryan, the Perry Hall couple started a foundation in their son's name to help other parents with ill children.
"Kelli deserves all the credit," her husband said. "The heartbreak and pain were unimaginable, but then we wanted to help to help other people going through the same thing. That's why we started the Ryan Foundation."
The foundation donated "anything to make things better" for families of sick kids, Andy Szczybor said, including televisions, Xboxes or large appliances, such as washing machines and dryers.
The plan to build Angel Park — and to give it a name — grew from there, becoming a way not only to memorialize their son, but to "represent a vision of an ideal setting for happiness and reflection," according to an Angel Park press release.
The park will be accessible for children of all ages and abilities, boasting, for example, sliding boards that don't produce an irritating scratching noise for those with cochlear implants, a Braille panel for vision-impaired kids, a shaky bridge that will accommodate wheelchairs and zip lines for youngsters with special needs.
Moreover, private spaces for children with autism afford them a quiet place when the need arises.
"It's a place for them to regroup when they need to get away from all the craziness," Kelli Szczybor said.
The idea of using approximately 2,000 volunteers manning three shifts from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to build a park modeled after Annie's Playground in Fallston not only helps defray costs, it gives them a sense of unity and the gratification of doing something for the greater good of the community.
At least one volunteer, however, was there for all three shifts on the opening day.
"Kelli and I have been friends since we were 12 years old," said Perry Hall resident Shannon Howard, an information technology manager with Dell.
Howard is a "captain" at Angel Park, a designation bestowed on those who will work on the project for the full 10 days.
"Kelli didn't have to ask me to volunteer," she said. "I knew she wanted to do something for Ryan's memory. Hopefully, we'll finish ahead of schedule, but there's no option other than getting it done."
Steve Galliard gave two days of his time as well, along with 50 of his fellow employees from 20 area Home Depot stores. "It's a great cause that's been in the works for some time," said Galliard, a Catonsville resident and manager of the Ellicott City Home Depot. "It's nice to see it coming to fruition."
The land was secured through a swap with a local developer engineered by 5th District Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who also helped secure a $250,000 grant from county coffers for the project. The county also will take over maintenance of the park.
"The developer (Macks and Macks) traded wooded property near Ebenezer Road with a site owned by the county next to the library," Marks said. "The wooded property was preserved, as was the acreage later used for Angel Park. I supported the arrangement because the county acquired a net increase in land."
The rest of the funding has come through private donations, most notably $100,000 from the Cole Foundation for an amphitheater that will be named for Bud and Betty Cole, the parents of Szczybors' lifelong friend Bill Cole.
In addition to the Baltimore County Savings Bank's $80,000 contribution, two other major benefactors — one who gave $200,000 for poured-in-place rubber surfacing for the playground area and another $50,000 for a pavilion — are remaining anonymous.
Yet all donations, large and small, are welcome through golf tournaments, bull roasts and other fundraising mechanisms.
From the local Chick-fil-A donating $1,000 to the Szczybors' niece, Cadyn Hacke, chipping in $20 from her lemonade stand sales, it all adds up to a win-win for the Perry Hall community.
"When I see all these people out here working together in the hot weather, it's just awesome," Kelli Szczybor said. "Some people don't even have kids, or their kids are grown, and they're still here. I haven't heard one complaint today. People are just so proud of what they're doing."
Volunteers are still needed to complete the project, which will continue until July 18. Among the jobs for which help is needed: playground construction, food service, child care, materials and tools management and volunteer check-in. Volunteers can sign up for as many shifts as they would like at http://www.angel-park.org.