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Car show to help realize Forest Hill Boy Scout's vision of a playground in his native Russia

The Baltimore Sun

Visitors to the first Jarrettsville Car and Truck Show Saturday will see custom models and classic vehicles, sample savory fare and get a look at newly carved totem poles that will eventually stand at the entrance to a playground in the Siberian region of Russia.

The poles, carved from a 20-foot Alaskan cedar log last week at a Jarrettsville lumber yard by Randy Boni and Rick Pratt, are the latest enhancement to the Krasnoyarsk Playground Project, the sole beneficiary of proceeds from the car show.

"I asked for a bear, the unofficial symbol of Russia, and an eagle, the official symbol of the U.S.," said Alex Griffith, a 15-year-old Forest Hill Boy Scout who hopes the project will earn him his Eagle's wings.

The bear is looking back over its shoulder, as a mother would look at her cubs, Alex said. And the eagle stands majestic, watching over everything, he said. Alex's contribution to the effort was to keep the carving workplace free of sawdust and wood chips and keep the youngest Scouts at a safe distance from the chain-saw activity.

The carvings will be on display at the car show, which runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at William Watters United Methodist Church, 1452 Jarrettsville Road.

Born in Krasnoyarsk, and adopted shortly before his first birthday, Alex launched the project several months ago and has raised about $20,000 of the $60,000 he needs to build the project in Russia. He found Boni, a chain-saw artist, on the Internet. With an assist from his father, Dwight Griffith, Alex brought Boni and his fellow carver to Harford County.

Alex said most of the pictures he has seen of Russian playgrounds have carvings, often based on folklore. He wanted to adhere to that tradition, he said.

During two long days, Boni and Pratt carved the towering bear and the eagle perched on a branch. Both carvings stand about seven feet tall and each weighs about 400 pounds. The carvers had enough remaining wood to make two smaller carvings - a bear and an owl - that will sit on either side of a park bench at the playground.

"This wood will hold up to a Russian winter," Boni said. "It has a real tight grain that will last a long time. This log is probably 200 years old."

Working with Playworld Systems, Alex has designed a playground that he will ship to Russia and assemble at Hospital #20, where he lived as an abandoned infant until he met Dwight and Jenny Griffith.

"I am amazed that a boy so young is taking on this project," Boni said. "It sure is a good gesture between countries."

Members of his Scout Troop 809 and the Bel Air Rotary are assisting Alex. The troop has broken into marketing, sales and installation committees and has helped Alex develop a Web site.

"If he needs help, we are here to help," said Andrew Parker, 15, who is not going so far abroad with his own Eagle project.

From recent photographs taken of the Krasnoyarsk playground, Dwight Griffith said it has not changed from 15 years ago, when he described it in a journal for his son. One small rusted swing, a sand pit that is frequently filled with mud, a small gazebo and a single picnic table provide little recreation for the children at the hospital.

Griffith has "a fancy, colorful play system" in mind and readily shares the details and diagrams, he said. He and his father and other volunteers will assemble it here, so they know how. Then they will disassemble it and ship it to Russia next summer.

"This will mean exercise, fun, and therapy for 435 kids at that hospital," said Dwight Griffith.

About 15 volunteers will travel to Krasnoyarsk with the Griffiths next summer and build the playground.

"I will turn 16 in Krasnoyarsk," Alex said.

His father said, "The car show is one of the ways to get him there."

Admission to the show is free. Information: www.krasplayground.com or 410-557-8000.

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