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Project SKIP: Where Schenectady kids can be kids

Sunday, May 30, 2010
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— A project that has taken the better part of two years to complete will finally come to fruition this week in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood — and it will have children running, jumping and having fun in a safe environment all summer.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on Tuesday for a new playground known as Project SKIP — Schenectady Kids Imagine and Play — in Jerry Burrell Park in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

The Schenectady Inner City Ministry was the main sponsor and coordinated Project SKIP, the brainchild of former Union College students Jeremy Taglieri and Joe McCarthy.

The pair were involved in building a similar community playground when they traveled to New Orleans in late 2007 and early 2008 to help rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina.

Taglieri described the experience as the highlight of the trip, and said it inspired them to get involved with the community here.

Taglieri said they sought the help of SICM after their return, and Project SKIP began to take off in September 2008 — the start of the duo’s final year at Union College. Taglieri had first hoped to have the playground completed before graduation, but the project took a lot longer than he originally thought. “It was a very long process. We thought we could get it done before graduation. It’s amazing to look back on it,” he said.

Taglieri admits that he was having trouble after graduation with balancing Project SKIP, his other duties at the ministry and his job at Price Chopper, where he had worked since he was 16.

Taglieri and McCarthy were able to dedicate more time to the project after the Rev. Philip Grigsby, the SICM executive director, arranged to hire them as Americorps volunteers last summer.

Taglieri said the living stipend provided by Americorps allowed him to quit his job at Price Chopper. “It’s a fine first job, but after six years, and trying to do the project, it was just too much,” Taglieri said.

Taglieri said they raised approximately $84,000 for Project SKIP, which came from a variety of sources. Besides the Union College Class of 2010, about a dozen nonprofit groups, churches and corporations donated money. Taglieri said he’s most proud of the Change for Jerry Burrell Park effort. Change canisters were placed in several Schenectady businesses and about $1,000 was raised. “We’ll never know how many people contributed,” he said, but based on the dollar amount “it must have been a lot.”

The effort culminated with last weekend’s “Build Day,” when the playground equipment was erected. Janet Mattis, SICM community outreach and internship coordinator, said they were expecting about 100 volunteers, and instead 140 showed up on Saturday morning. Mattis compared it to “an Amish barn-raising, where everyone works together.” She said they wanted to keep volunteers to working four-hour shifts, but many refused to take a break and worked straight through the afternoon. Mattis called the experience “very gratifying.” Taglieri added, “It was everything we had hoped it would be. People from all socio-economic backgrounds and from all walks of life were there.”

Taglieri is hoping that the new playground can spark other improvements in the neighborhood. He said they wanted residents to have input from the beginning. “When we started the project, we didn’t want to dictate to the community what kind of playground they would have. The real point of the project isn’t just to put a new playground in, but to get Hamilton Hill residents involved in their community, to let them have a hand in building it and to take ownership of it. We don’t pretend it will solve all of the problems of the neighborhood, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

For Taglieri, the timing of Project SKIP’s completion couldn’t be better. He has joined the Peace Corps and is scheduled to fly to Moldova on June 8. “I’ll have a couple of days to take it all in and watch the kids play and enjoy it before I leave,” he said.

 
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