Park remains open, despite vandalism

Published 7:30 am Saturday, April 1, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti

LaGRANGE – When employees with Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services decided to create a playground, garden and gazebo on their Lincoln Street campus, their vision for it was simple.

Design a place with lots of green space where children and parents can play, relax, pray, chat with friends and distract themselves from everyday troubles.

The park, located on the Brownwood Avenue side of the Coleman Center campus, was built for the families and children who use Twin Cedars’ services and also for kids and adults who reside in the Hillside community.

“I like the swings under the tree. It’s a ‘contemplative’ area,” said Twin Cedars Executive Director Sheri Cody with a smile. “When I drive into the parking lot (Coleman Center) and all the flowers are in bloom … it’s like they weave themselves together. It’s just so beautiful.”

Unfortunately, vandals attempted to destroy some of the park’s beauty last week. Someone pulled out air vents from the gazebo, bent the blades on the ceiling fan and busted an electrical switch, according to a LaGrange police report.

Cody said it appeared the vandals were trying to steal the copper wiring out of the ceiling fan.

The damage done was estimated around $300, the report stated.

While Cody and Twin Cedars Assistant Coordinator John Harrell are disappointed by the crime, they refuse to let it stop them from creating a bigger and better green space – or place restrictions on who can and cannot use the park.

“Everyone can come here,” Harrell exclaimed. “When I see kids playing out there, it warms my heart. When I see a dad reading to his kid or girls sitting on the swings, I love it. As anywhere, there are a few bad apples that try to ruin it for the rest.”

Sadly, this was not the first time vandals have damaged the playground equipment. In 2015, someone slashed the tarp on top of the fort, kicked out the rails that exposed rusty nails, broke the swings, bashed in the vents in the gazebo and spray painted graffiti on the columns of the gazebo.

Vandals also stole the table from under the gazebo, ripped up plants and flowers in the garden, kicked in pumpkins and smashed one of the outdoor surveillance cameras.

Fortunately, Hunter Brawner, 16, saw the damaged equipment and refurbished the area as his master project to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout.

The renovated playground, gazebo and garden was unveiled in February 2016.

Large, wooden swings hang from the limbs of an expansive Magnolia tree dripping with large, dark green leaves and fragrant, white blossoms in the spring.

New swings, designed for children with special needs, were added to the playground, along with a new covering over the fort.

Depending on the season, the Garden of Hope is filled with a variety of colorful flowers or contains different vegetables, waiting to be harvested. The aroma of rosemary permeates the air near the garden where several tall bushels of the herb are grown.

A little, free library stands near the garden full of books for children of all ages.

The park is especially helpful for children who are visiting the Children’s Advocacy Center located inside the Coleman facility.

The CAC conducts forensic interviews and physical exams, plus provides counseling for victims of child sexual abuse.

“The kids have just talked to me about something horrific. But then they can go outside and distract themselves on the playground,” Harrell explained. “What we (Twin Cedars) do is sometimes overwhelming. It’s nice to have something positive and pretty to look forward to outdoors. The garden is therapeutic for me … and it seems for the kids when they get to harvest something.”

“I remember one year we planted the sweet potatoes and the kids could go into the garden and dig one out,” Cody stated. “Then they’d come back inside and we’d show them how to microwave it (sweet potato) and eat it with butter and brown sugar.”

Cody and Harrell hope to soon plant a community vegetable garden.

The duo also wants residents to know the park gates are always open – day or night.

“It’s a place for people to recover … for the people that come to the Coleman Center and for people in our community,” Cody said. “We love having the garden … and we appreciate our neighbors keeping an eye on it and keeping it beautiful for the children.”

The Twin Cedars staff is hoping to host a community Easter egg hunt on the Coleman Center campus.

Anyone who wishes to volunteer or for more information can contact Sheri Cody at 706-298-0050, ext. 1053 or John Harrell at 706-302-7546.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.