Playground in need of volunteers to build it

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Organizers of an effort to build a 60,000-square-foot playground in Fallston to honor a girl killed by a hit-and-run driver are putting out a call for thousands of volunteers to help with construction beginning next month.

The playground, which will be built at Edgeley Grove Farm, is dedicated to the memory of Annie M. Cumpston, a 6-year-old who was killed in Baltimore in March 2003.

"This playground will be a special place to go for all kids and families," said Tom Cumpston, Annie's father. "You can't take for granted the time you have with your family, because you never know what can happen the next day. So we need as many volunteers as we can get to get it done."

About $400,000 has been raised for the playground and organizers are seeking volunteers to help build it over 15 days starting next month. There are 5,000 shifts of about four hours to be filled, said Sharon Perfetti, coordinator of the project.

"If the county were paying to have this playground built, it would cost about $3 [million], $4 million," said Perfetti, a longtime friend of the Cumpston family. "We need volunteers to be able to afford the project and get it done on time. We've got about 1,250 names of people and expect some repeats, but we need a lot more."

Construction will take place Sept. 9 to 11 and Sept. 21 to Oct. 2. The shifts will be 8 a.m. to noon, 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The goal is 250 to 350 people per shift, and workers of all ages and skill levels are needed, Perfetti said. Volunteers can sign up for as many shifts as they like. Care will be provided for children 9 and younger.

The plans for Annie's Playground amount to a youngster's dream.

The project is one of the largest playgrounds ever undertaken by the builder, Leathers & Associates, which is based in Ithaca, N.Y., and specializes in playground construction, Perfetti said.

"We really want to make it a wonderful place for kids to play."

The theme is outdoors. A two-story treehouse will serve as the centerpiece of the playground. Perfetti asked Annie's three sisters - Susie, 10, Alice, 6, and Madelyn, 3 - to contribute ideas for the treehouse.

"They wanted to have a schoolhouse, a kitchen and a relaxing room," Perfetti said. "The relaxing room will have a hammock built into the second floor where they can sit and look at what's happening on the first floor."

Two slides and a rock-climbing wall will be part of the treehouse.

The playground includes a variety of slides, such as a three-slot racing slide that serves as the tongue of a dragon, and a tunnel slide that is the trunk of an elephant.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is sponsoring a half-size baseball field with bats and a lifetime supply of balls, and there also will be an amphitheater and musical instruments designed for the outdoors.

"Kids will be able to put on plays here and play the instruments," Perfetti said, adding that an alligator drum and a xylophone are being made for the amphitheater.

In addition to the parts built for fun, the playground will include a memorial garden.

"We are naming this playground after Annie, but we want it to represent all the kids who have died in our area," Perfetti said. "So we collected names of people who've had children die and we let them put their child's name on a brick to go in the garden."

More than 100 people in the area received bricks at no cost to memorialize lost loved ones, though some purchased them as a way to contribute to the project. Additionally, more than 600 others purchased bricks for $50 to $200 to support the effort.

In the center of the garden is a princess tower honoring Annie. "The most special part of the playground for our family is Annie's Memorial Garden," her father said. "It means so much to us to have a place to go and sit and be with her. ... We can go there and have her with us. Annie impacted so many lives in her short time with us that it means so much to know that after we're long gone, her legacy will live on and she'll be remembered."

The project has brought together family, friends and other members of the community who were affected by the girl's death.

While leaving a circus in Baltimore with her family on March 22, 2003, Annie was struck in a crosswalk by a car driven by a man who fled the scene before being apprehended. Guillermo Diaz-Lopez, a Mexican national who lived in Halethorpe, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident and was sentenced in Baltimore Circuit Court to 10 years in prison. Several other charges - including traffic violations, driving under the influence of alcohol and attempted first-degree murder - were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

After Annie's death, the Cumpstons, who live in Jarrettsville, initiated a scholarship in her name at St. Margaret School in Bel Air, which Annie attended. But Perfetti resolved to pursue another tribute that would be more visible.

"Only people at the school know about the scholarship," Perfetti said. "It's going strong, but we wanted something that would give Annie a chance to leave a legacy."

Perfetti and other family friends started the Annie's Playground Foundation and began searching for a location. They approached Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation for land to build the playground and county officials offered to help.

The county was in the process of developing the 241-acre Edgeley Grove Farm, said Ardene McCune, chief of capital planning and development for the parks department.

"It was a perfect partnership," McCune said. "We had land available, and their fundraising has been extremely successful. The space allotted to the playground is a full acre, and that's all going to be used."

The county will provide workers, including parks and recreation maintenance staff and public works employees, during construction, McCune said.

"We hope everyone will catch the fever and come out and help," McCune said. "It's an extremely rewarding and touching situation. As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to someone who one minute has a child next to them and the next they're gone. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. It's a great project to be a part of."

Another way people have been getting involved is by sponsoring individual pieces of equipment for the playground. There were 79 pieces for sponsorship, and eight are left.

The most expensive piece - a giant twisty slide - was sponsored for $9,000 and was dedicated to another child, Harford resident Devon Sandmeir, who was killed in a car accident.

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora and his family sponsored a slide for $3,500. The Moras also purchased a brick and their daughter Tatiana, 8, drew a picture for it and signed it, "Tatiana and Mora quints," for the couple's quintuplets.

"It was heart-wrenching for us because we lost my brother two years ago," said Gisel Mora, Melvin Mora's wife. "When we heard how it all happened we were all in tears and asked what we could do to help. I hope to be able to help with construction."

To sign up for a shift, go to www.harfordcountymd.gov/parks_rec/Annies Founda tion.html.

For more information, call Sharon Perfetti at 410-557-3777 or go to www.anniesfounda tion.org.

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