Volunteer army leaves a trail of construction

EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) –  John Carnavale hopes the young residents of his city will notice more than just the new paint and backboards on the now renovated Hull Street playground.

“It’s empowering the kids and the community to know that when you see something that’s rundown, you can be the one that goes out there and is the change,” Carnavale said.

He was a three-sport athlete while growing up in the city, but after moving away, he couldn’t ignore some of the blighted playgrounds and athletic facilities that his family and friends had used for decades. The Hull Street play ground’s revival was only the latest in a string of volunteer-powered projects that Carnavale helped put together.

“We worked with the city and some great local contractors who understood what we were trying to do,” Carnavale said. “And with the volunteers, we were able to do these projects for a fraction of the cost.”

The Hull Street play ground had cracked asphalt on the courts and bent, rusted back boards. It was demolished, repaved and painted.

“It was just one of those things where you look at it and it kind of rips your heart out. I played here as a kid,” Carnavale said. “Two of the basketball hoops were bent at a 70-degree angle. So, some of the backboards eight feet off the ground.”

The team of volunteers included Jonathan Solis, who stepped up despite a childhood injury from a medical procedure.

“And it paralyzed my whole right side,” Solis said. “But I’m still out here painting, showing the love.”

Carnavale’s 91-year-old grandmother was also one of the volunteers.

The kids who will play here and at the other renovated spots in town will love it, but Carnavale expects many to also see the value and the power of volunteering.

“And the wonderful thing about it is I knew it was the kind of park we wanted to do over because even when it was run down, the kids were still here having fun,” Carnavale said. “Now, they’ll see it and know this could happen anywhere with their help.”

He’s applying the same formula to other types of projects.

“We have technology projects that we’re working on right now. We know things within the classroom are just as important as out here,” he said.

Send your story ideas to Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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