By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — With paint, gloves and sanding materials in hand, the Crestwood High School Arab Student Union prepared to fix the wear and tear at Van Houten Park.
About 40 volunteers joined forces Aug. 8 to replace missing wood chips, remove weeds, sand down wood and repaint rusting play sets.
Founder and President Mohamed Hojaij said the idea began during a board meeting in July with the help of Dearborn Public Schools teacher and ASU Advisor Rashid Baydoun.
“We discussed how we can give back to the community and accomplish goals relating to our mission,” Hojaij said. “I grew up playing at Van Houten Park, so it is near and dear to my heart.”
The ASU reached out to the Parks and Recreation Department to get approval for the renovations and were supplied with materials to complete the cleanup.
“It was a big undertaking by the group,” Parks and Recreation Director Kenneth Grybel said. “They were able to finish three-fourths of the work and keep the park playable by the youth for many years to come.”
Grybel said he was looking for a group or organization to assist with the maintenance when he was contacted by ASU.
“Ken Grybel from the department was so happy when we brought him the idea,” Hojaij said. “He had the supplies and budget, but not the manpower that we are able to provide.”
The biggest fix-up at the park for Hojaij and volunteers was removing negative wording or images that had been carved or written on the wood.
“When the children are playing here, we don’t want them to see those words and images,” he said. “We were able to sand down the wood and remove those issues.”
The group was able to complete the estimated three-day workload in one day, working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. while the park was closed to the public.
ASU set out to fix up the park, but may have sparked something additional, Hojaij said.
“Ken loved the help and the city can now move forward with the rest of the work they need to complete,” he said. “They have to work on the fences, roof tops and change the chains.”
For the future, the ASU is planning to ask sponsors of Van Houten Park to give back in order to maintain the park.
“The park has served the youth and community for so long,” Hojaij said. “Volunteering and giving back is a great way for anyone to help.”
For information on ASU future projects, email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at email@example.com.)