New playground is a labor of love for 600 volunteers

With long manicured nails and bouncy brown hair, Lisa Levin doesn't look like someone you'd find using an electric router on a construction site.

But yesterday and Sunday, Mrs. Levin and more than 600 other volunteers tromped through the mud behind the Jewish Community Center on Gwynbrook Avenue in Owings Mills to build a two-acre biblical playground. Nearly 2,000 children in the JCC preschool and camp programs will use the play ground, funded by a $100,000 grant from the Harry Weinberg Family Foundation and built by volunteers.


"I'm an insurance and investment adviser, but I love this," said Alyse Holstein, secretary of the JCC's board of directors. "I asked one of the builders if they needed any weekend work."

After sanding a wooden camel yesterday, Mrs. Holstein brushed sawdust from her hair and admitted that she hadn't been sure what to expect when she arrived Sunday morning. "But it really wasn't that difficult," she said, a full day of construction behind her. Dressed in jeans and work boots and wearing goggles, she said the playground was worth the bruises.


"Every bone in my body aches, and I work out!" she said. "But we're doing it for the kids. And it's not just for the kids. The parents are going to be on this stuff, too."

Architects and builders say the wood-and-tire playground -- with its King David's City, Noah's Ark and a caravan of wooden camels -- is designed to strengthen a child's body and imagination.

"It's good for them, but don't tell them," says Rod Hoyt, a designer with Learning Structures Inc.

The New Hampshire company specializes in community-built playgrounds and designed the JCC playground. It has designed over 300 community-built playgrounds around the country.

In August, company representatives visited the JCC in Owings Mills and spoke with children, parents and staff about the new playground.

"The idea is to build a learning environment, as opposed to just swing sets," Mr. Hoyt said. "All you have to do is look around. You've got camels, you've got serpents [made from huge tires]. You address a lot of needs here."

Last week, volunteers from local construction companies laid the playground's foundation, said Judy Grossman, director of education. On Sunday, they were joined by volunteers from other groups and businesses and members of the community.

Black and Decker employees donated their time, and the Towson-based company supplied power tools used in the playground's construction. Other companies donated sand, tires and wood.


"Everyone is selfless," said Jerry Manko, vice president of finance for the International Group of Black and Decker. "Everyone is out there working. Every little bit is what's making it happen."

Mrs. Levin, who took a break from routing the Walls of Jericho, said, "I just do whatever they tell me to do."

"It's the most exciting thing I've ever seen," she added, waving to her 4-year-old daughter, Kate. "[Sunday], I was crying. It's hard to believe that this can all happen. I'll be able to say to my grandchildren, 'I made this.' "