By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
Ferguson, MO – Combine volunteers with chainsaws, shovels, mowers, and rakes, a perfectly crisp fall morning with a group on a mission to help a struggling community and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for “IAM H.E.L.P.S. in the Community” and the Machinists Community Service Organization’s first long-term park renovation.
H.E.L.P.S. stands for Honoring, Engaging, Lifting, Providing and Servicing.
On a recent Saturday morning in November, about 40 men, women and teens took up their tools and toughest trash bags, wore gloves to protect them from briars and thorns, tough shoes to protect against twisting ankles from slipping in mole hills or stepping on walnut pods, and set to work sawing, trimming, raking and mowing as part of their two-part restoration of the overgrown and long neglected Spring Valley Park in Ferguson.
WORKING WITH NEIGHBORS AND CITY
Scott Hargis, president of IAM Lodge 777 and head of the District 9 Community Service Organization, had been discussing plans for the park’s renewal for several months. Ferguson’s Ward 3 Alderwoman Fran Griffin, elected just this year, had been walking door-to-door talking to neighbors about what they would like to see in their neighborhood. IAM Helps met with her to plan the park renovation.
“The neighbors said they were afraid to allow their children to go into the park because of the overgrown brush that tended to make it unsafe,” Griffin said. “Clearing the brush and the overgrown trees will open up the park, allowing a clear view of the area for caring parents.”
The half-acre plot was formerly an empty subdivision lot, a little lot in the middle of Halpin Drive where neighborhood children used to play on the park swings or merry-go-round. But as years passed and weeds grew, the park became unsafe for young children as older kids began hanging out among the weeds, leading to bad behavior.
“We took on Spring Valley Park because Ferguson is a town that is hurting,” Hargis said. “Helping communities like Ferguson is our way of putting our footprint out there — that IAM Helps the Community. It’s a great way to improve our visibility and to highlight our role in communities.”
‘MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK’
It was a team effort. Business Representative Ann Ballesteros pulled leaves embedded in the fence, while Directing Business Representative Dave Weaver hacked at the thicker weed stalks. Lodge 777 Vice President Brian Hillstead used his zero-turn extra-wide lawn mower to cut the grassy weedy lot while dodging large green walnut pods kicked up from the blades. Union family volunteers and their children bagged the leaves and brush. Lodge 822 member Curt Steffens drove all the way from Quincy, Ill. to lend a hand, and IAM Midwest Territory Chief of Staff Luther Williams pitched in, with everyone working together.
“Many hands make light work,” said Business Representative Neil Queathem as he squatted along the fence line separating the weeds from the neighbors’ trees.
Lori Gardner, the wife of District 9 Business Representative Tracy Gardner, used brains and brawn to transport the mounds of leaves raked from the grounds. She found that a sturdy rope attached to a child’s plastic swimming pool was the perfect way to transport dried leaves across the park’s 200-foot stretch to the road.
Within an hour, 20 years of overgrowth woven through the fences, and trees with wooden vines so thick, they’d be the envy of Tarzan, were cut, cleared, pulled out and hauled to the roadside in neat piles for pickup.
MAKING THE GREATER ST. LOUIS COMMUNITY A BETTER PLACE
Past IAM H.E.L.P.S. projects have included:
Operation Backpack, through which tons of non-perishable foods were donated to Warrenton school children.
- Food donations for automotive workers in Jefferson City, whose lives and workaday world were devastated by a tornado and for the past two years.
- And spreading the word about jobs for women in the machinist industry at the St. Charles County Working Women’s Survival Show.
“Helping communities in need not only allows us to show the communities that Machinist District 9 members care,” Hargis said. “It helps us tell our story. We don’t tell our story enough. We need to get out there more and more and show people how we are making this community a better place.”