Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) teamed up with multiple organizations and local residents this weekend at Butterfly Park in National City, Ca. to help build a community gathering space April 19-21.
This was the first volunteer event for the recently formed group Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD) on Essex.
In just a three day period, Essex Sailors and more than 100 volunteers built benches, did mosaic tile-work and decorative painting and added many architectural upgrades to the area.
“This is a great addition to this community,” said Officer Bill Phillips with the National City Police Department. “In the late 90’s, the government gave the city money to do things like this but this was sort of that park the city forgot.”
Butterfly Park had previously been a location in the city where it was common to see homeless people as well as illegal drug use and underage drinking.
“The state of this park was an issue for me both as a resident of this city and as a police officer,” Phillips said.” It is really going to be great to see the community using this park now for good reasons.”
National City, The Pomegranate Center, A Reason to Survive (ARTS), Olivewood Gardens and other local non-profit foundations along with CSADD and community volunteers were all instrumental in completing the park’s transformation.
“Communities are less and less full of character these days but the people are always so unique and different,” said Bree Dillon, project coordinator contractor for the Pomegranate Center. “What we do is give an outlet to their uniqueness and express that so that this becomes a place of pride and ownership.”
A typical project of this size would typically cost around a half million dollars and take years to be approved and planned if the city were to do it with government workers and contractors.
“This project has been so successful and we have done it on a relatively small budget of only $20,000,” Dillon said. “We have had a lot of support from the Navy and locals and the turnout for this project has just been awesome.”
The butterfly theme appears subtly throughout the park in design as well as in the mosaics and artwork on the stairs, garbage cans, platform and sitting areas.
“Rather than just using the shape or image of the butterfly, we used the characteristics and qualities like the movements and lightness of the creature, which is why you see all the curves in the sitting area, planters and platform,” said Smadar Samson, design project manager for ARTS. “We really wanted to engage the residents, and it was really moving to hear their thoughts and address their needs.”
CSADD members could be seen throughout the weekend lending a helping hand wherever one was needed in order to make sure the park was opened on time.
“Events like this really help to build moral and bring us closer as shipmates,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Travis Hunter. “CSADD is really a great way for us to do some good for the command and we have some great volunteer work already lined up in the near future.”
The park opening was held Sunday evening at a ribbon cutting ceremony with the mayor of National City, Ron Morrison, who was also seen working every day with volunteers at the park.
“I had no idea that the park was going to turn out this great,” said Morrison. “This place was completely overgrown and everything we did here we really tried to use as many recycled materials as possible from the eucalyptus benches down to the bricks in the seating area that we salvaged from a local building. It was so nice to see a group of common people working together and the support we had from all of our volunteers was great.”
With Essex currently in dry-dock until early 2014, CSADD is giving Sailors on the ship a chance to make the best of their time outside of work while making a positive impact in the local community.