By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — Union Park was flooded with people Tuesday.
There wasn’t a pickup game or a picnic. Instead more than 30 volunteers from KitchenAid and Kinexus’ YouthBuild program were out cleaning and maintaining the Benton Harbor park.
Volunteers began working at 7 a.m., cutting down branches, spreading mulch and updating playground equipment until 3 p.m.
This was part of a larger effort put on by the Whirlpool brand, which had 160 volunteers cleaning and working at 12 locations. Other volunteer sites included the Benton Harbor Senior Center, Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, Cycle ReCycle and the Morton House Museum.
Kenneth Perry and Ed Pinkowski were the project managers for the Union Park cleanup. This was the first time KitchenAid had been out to clean Union Park, but Pinkowski said it was the seventh year KitchenAid has been picking sites to help clean.
Pinkowski said they got in touch with Benton Harbor to see what was needed at Union Park. The two understood what they could handle and devised a plan on how many people they needed and what the job would require.
“We’ve been out here two or three times in the last few months doing prep work, trying to understand what the city was doing from a grant perspective,” Pinkowski said. “We’re filling the gap from what was left over from the grant work.”
Pinkowski said volunteers spread about 200 yards of mulch, trimmed a lot of trees that were low hanging or dead, removed fences that were in disrepair and painted a few of the dugouts.
They also took time to paint the basketball posts black, the backboards white and the rims orange before installing new nets.
When Perry and Pinkowski were getting things ready, they realized they needed more than just volunteers. They required some landscaping equipment.
“A couple of us brought some tractors from home with a couple of front loaders to move the mulch,” Pinkowski said. “That was kind of neat to see everyone come together. Not with just warm bodies, but with equipment to help make this feasible.”
The YouthBuild program also joined KitchenAid in updating Union Park on Tuesday.
Curtis McFall, case manager and leadership coach for the YouthBuild program, said they normally find different organizations to partner with when they can.
YouthBuild, which helps prepare young adults for educational and employment opportunities, produced six people to help prior to the program’s graduation ceremony later that day.
“They were willing to come out here early in the morning to put in some work and then get ready for graduation,” McFall said. “YouthBuild is really a second chance for these kids who have had a few troubles along the way. We embody what it takes to give back to the community.”
Each year KitchenAid’s efforts have grown, as Perry said people know they are quite handy.
“I think it’s sparking a bigger impact as well,” Perry said. “It’s a one-day event for people who don’t have to do this, but come to give back to the community on their own time. It makes a big statement and hopefully it becomes contagious.”