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Dozens clean up Austintown park on national day of volunteerism

AUSTINTOWN — One day, 6-year-old Kameron Garland noticed his next-door neighbor had a large quantity of gardening material and didn’t hesitate to spring into action.

“Kameron saw the big trailer of mulch and immediately ran over and wanted to help him. My kids really enjoy helping,” Kameron’s mother, Kara Garland of Mineral Ridge, said, also referring to younger son, Kaleb, 2.

Assisting others in any capacity is a high priority for Kameron, who put his altruism to work by also participating in Saturday’s Austintown Community Day at the rear of Austintown Township Park, 6000 Kirk Road.

Kameron, along with a few dozen other children and adults who are members of Greenford Christian Church’s Austintown Campus, took part in a cleanup and beautification project that was a key part of the five-hour Community Day.

The event also coincided with National Make a Difference Day, which is celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday in October. The day was started in 1992 to provide community support and encourage volunteerism nationwide.

Since its inception, National Make a Difference Day has inspired more than 30 million volunteer hours, with humanitarian projects that have included gathering stuffed toys for firefighters and organizing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to www.nationaltoday.com.

For his part, Kaleb used several of his yellow toy dump trucks to haul away then dump fallen leaves into a wooded area adjacent to the park. Church members raked and blew piles of leaves off a grassy knoll and into the woods.

As part of the cleanup, volunteers also weeded several flowerbeds and removed overgrown shrubs, fallen branches and dead tree limbs, Mark Pemberton, Greenford Christian Church’s campus minister, noted.

After a bit of coordination with the park’s supervisor, church members were recruited to pitch in, something they did gladly, he remembered.

“I told him, ‘Hey, we just want to help, no strings attached,'” Pemberton said, adding he hopes to perform such volunteer work for the park two or three times per year.

Also part of the event was a Halloween costume contest with prizes for all participants, as well as a community fair, at which several area agencies offered a variety of information and resources, said Leah Sakacs, director of the foster grandparent and senior companion programs with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of the Mahoning Valley.

Entities that participated were Park Vista of Youngstown, Images by Mandy, the Austintown Girls Softball League, the Veterans Service Commission of Mahoning County, RSVP, the Austintown Junior Women’s League, the Jewish Family & Community Services organization and the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown.

In addition, Buckeyes and More LLC sold peach and apple pies, nut rolls, buckeyes and chocolate caramels.

The Community Day gathering also had a basket raffle, the proceeds from which are to go toward building a walkway that would allow mainly older people who have difficulty walking to reach farmers markets set up in the park, Lynne Azar, the Jewish Family & Community Services’ senior outreach coordinator, noted.

The project, which she estimated at $60,000, would make it easier for seniors with such challenges to buy fresh produce. Perhaps more importantly, a walkway would encourage them to visit the markets, which also would provide opportunities for them to socialize more while decreasing their sense of isolation, Azar explained.

“If you have a safe place to walk, that’s vital,” she said, adding that the Mahoning Valley has a large percentage of residents 65 and older.

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