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Big Picture Students Help Build State-of-the-Art Playground in Salamanca

A total of 26 students enrolled in Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES’ Big Picture Program – 12 based at the CTE Center at Ellicottville and 14 based at Elm Street Academy in Cuba -- were among the hundreds of volunteers, who assisted in building a new playground at Highland Avenue Park in Salamanca.  According to organizers, it might be largest playground in Western New York.  It is expected the playground will provide more than 900 kids in Salamanca with a modern, safe place to play.

CABOCES Big Picture Principal at Ellicottville Christopher Gagliardo said, “We were excited about this fantastic opportunity for our students offered to us from the Salamanca City Youth Bureau.  It was a great opportunity for us to advertise the positive actions our students offer to the community they live in.”

He explained, “We arrived at the playground site (near the corner of Highland and Linden Avenues shown BELOW) on Tuesday, where our students and local volunteers helped unload trucks in preparation for the build.  Gloves, and other safety materials were provided, along with tools to do the work.  Breakfast, lunch, and water were also provided.”

In addition to unloading the trucks, the Big Picture students helped dig post holes and used sump pumps to remove water from the holes.  The following day, the students sorted hardware, cut wood, dug more holes, continued sump pump work, and mixed concrete.

According to Salamanca Mayor Mike Smith (shown BELOW carrying a slide segment with a Big Picture student), “I don’t know what we would have done without the BOCES Big Picture students on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The program saved the day (on Tuesday), because we only had four volunteers without them.  We would have been hurting without them there to do the unloading.”

On Thursday, BP students put portions of the playground equipment together, and continued to erect and help set several posts.  They also helped install a plastic outside barrier around the playground.

CABOCES School Counselor Jill Bennett said, “We had six Big Picture boys, who are also enrolled in Career and Technical Education programs at the Ellicottville Center, who assisted in draining 210 pre-dug holes that became waterlogged due to downpours on Wednesday.”

She added, “Organizers were hoping to get 20 volunteers on Tuesday, another 30 to 50 volunteers on both Wednesday and Thursday, nearly 100 on Friday, and 300 plus volunteers on Saturday.  It’s like the old adage, many hands make light work.  Our kids were a large part of that effort on Tuesday and Wednesday, and again today (Thursday).”

Several students from Salamanca City Schools were among the 26 Big Picture students who helped with the project.  Other home schools represented included: from the BP Ellicottville Program - Cattaraugus-Little Valley and Randolph; and from the BP Elm Street Academy Program - Belfast, Bolivar-Richburg, Franklinville, Friendship, Hinsdale, Olean, Pioneer, Scio, and Wellsville.

Indeed, nearly 100 volunteer workers helped with the project on Friday, and more than 200 community volunteers came together over six hours on Saturday, September 15, to complete the work.

CABOCES Big Picture Principal at Ellicottville Christopher Gagliardo explained, “We also had students return after school hours and some showed up on Saturday for the final assembly and completion.”

He added, “I truly feel like our students saw that a unified effort for a good cause can make a grateful impact on the community you live in and care about.  One of our seniors was also approached by the Salamanca DPW and he was told that his work effort over the course of the build is what their department looks for in an employee.  He was then told to seek out the department after graduation and there would be a job waiting for him.  This event truly showed our seniors that effort never goes unnoticed, and when you least expect it, opportunity can present itself!”

The kid-designed, made to order, 1,400-square foot “Built to Play” playground was an initiative of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.  Mr. Wilson founded and owned the Buffalo Bills for more than half a century.  The amount of the grant was not known at press time, but was known to be significant.  The initiative aims to give kids in Western New York more opportunities for free play.

On Saturday, Mrs. Mary Wilson (Ralph’s widow) said, “Ralph worked out every day of his life and he believed in exercise.”

She observed, “To see this, it’s like a well-oiled machine.”

“I just love it.  The KABOOM! people and the volunteers are incredible.  Ralph really cared about this community (Salamanca),” added Mrs. Wilson.

The city of Salamanca also contributed $8,500 to the project, which was organized and designed by KABOOM!  The project was spearheaded by the Rural Revitalization Corporation, along with the City of Salamanca – especially its Youth Bureau and Department of Public Works, and KABOOM!  Other organizations assisting in the project included the Salamanca City Central School District, and the Seneca Nation of Indians.  Various city, county, and state government officials also lent their support to the project.

According to Melanie Barnes, KABOOM!’s associate director of Project Management, she met with children at the Salamanca Youth Bureau in July to get their ideas on what they would like in a new playground.  KABOOM!, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., then took the children’s dream playground drawings and developed a final playground design.  She also noted the wealth of experience KABOOM! brings to the table as the organization has designed and built more than 3,100 playgrounds across the nation over the past 22 years.


Salamanca Alderman for Ward 5 Janet Koch (left) and Salamanca City Controller Kathi Sarver (right) are shown preparing name tags for various Saturday work groups.

ABOVE is a "Before" photo and BELOW are a couple "After" photos.  Some Salamanca DPW workers are shown doing some finishing work.