Fixing abandoned playgrounds and helping rebuild sidewalks, steps and other structures are the hallmarks of a group of teenagers who make an annual pilgrimage to New Castle.
This is the fourth year that the youth group and adult supervisors from Watermarke Church in Bellefonte, Center County, have come to New Castle for the ministry of repairing local playgrounds so that the children of the community have nicer places to play.
A group of 20 teenagers and six supervisors arrived in town on Thursday armed with shovels, paint, brushes, sandpaper, gloves and other tools with a mission to beautify three playgrounds and they added the South Side Community Garden to their list.
Their week of hard work will end with a celebration — a picnic open to all South Side community residents and children — at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Earl A. “Muff” Sallie Playground on Pennsylvania Avenue. Hot dogs, watermelon and music will be free for all attendees.
Why New Castle?
One of the team leaders is Diana Crable, sister of New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem. New Castle is close to her heart because she grew up here. She and her husband, Bob, live in Bellefonte and are active members of Watermarke Church and its youth group.
“There’s a verse in the Bible that says to use what you have to serve others,” Crable said. Adults teach adolescents to be good citizens and to use their talents and generosity to help others.
But New Castle is not the only community that has benefited from the work of the church group. They have also traveled with the teens to West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to do what they believe is their calling from God.
The teens also did missionary work in their hometown of Bellefonte, “so the kids can see the difference they are making in their home community,” Crable said.
So far in New Castle, their work has garnered a warm response from the community.
The Quality Inn in Shenango Township served as the church group’s headquarters for lodging, and Eric and Nora Lee Sallie lent them use of their south side house for their lunches, dinners, and evening devotions.
Crable noted that the manager of the Quality Inn gave the team a huge discount on their rooms. Hotel management and the Sallie family “are very grateful for what we do for the community.”
New Castle Town Council, at its meeting on Thursday, presented the Watermarke Church group with a proclamation in thanks for their work.
Their first day on the job this week centered on the Bell Avenue and Bollinger playgrounds, both located on the West Side of New Castle. People drove past the teenagers shouting “thank you” from their car windows, said city police chief Bobby Salem, who has helped coordinate the team’s efforts since the end of New Castle. . A few of his officers also pitched in by doing some of the hard work.
Youth and adults from the New Castle branch of the Victory Christian Center are also part of the effort. Its main campus is located on Route 422 in Coitsville. His local minister, who encouraged young people to help the projects, is Alonzo Waters.
The Watermarke team first arrived in New Castle four years ago with the goal of repairing the Earl A. “Muff” Sallie playground on the south side. They returned there the following year to complete their work.
Two years ago, COVID-19 was rampant and their return visit was postponed.
Then last year they came back and spruce up years of neglect at the Farrell Playground in the east end of town, providing colored climbing tires and other playground equipment and tables for picnic.
This year, the group painted a pavilion on Bell Avenue and made other improvements, filled a playground with sod at Bollinger Playground, and laid a new sidewalk, pulled weeds, watered gardens, and built a produce stand for sales at the South Side Community Garden on Home Street.
Kenny Rice, Shelly Vendemia and Janice Hassen, all of New Castle, have worked hard to see the South Side Community Garden grow this year on the DON Enterprises property off Home Street. The garden is modeled after the garden on the city’s Lower East Side, with the goal of reducing food costs for people who live in that area, Rice explained.
Rice said he is especially grateful for their construction of the sidewalk.
DON management came out and ripped out the existing, rammed sidewalk earlier this week, and the cement was 10 inches or more thick. To replace it, “it would have been a significant cost for us to hire a company to do it,” he said.
“I’m so excited that the sidewalk is being poured for accessibility and inclusion,” Rice said. “That’s why the flowerbeds are so far apart, so people with reduced mobility can walk and garden safely.”
“We’re so happy with Bobby (Salem) and Diana (Crable) and this church group for bringing these young people here,” said Rice, who saw the teens while they worked in the garden Friday morning.
“These are the times I live for,” he commented, “when you see all these amazing young people give up their beautiful Friday mornings, afternoons and weekdays to come here and serve. This is where my heart melts, seeing these amazing people go places, show love in our communities.
“They’re smiling as they work hard in the sun,” Rice said. “I get emotional about times like this. It just means something to me when the community comes together like this.
Hope Martin, one of the Watermarke teens traveling this year, has been on other mission trips, but this is her first year at New Castle.
“I felt it would be a good opportunity to be closer to God and make new friends,” Martin said of his reason for attending. “I also wanted to show how God is working in my life and how he can work in the lives of others as well.”