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Volunteers reclaim Waterford school's playing field from nature's grip

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published November 19. 2012 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
These scruffy softballs, found in the brush and vines that had crept up to and through the fences of the softball field at Waterford Country School, sit near second base while volunteers from Triumph Actuation Systems in East Lyme meet Thursday at the end of the first of two days to clean up the neglected field.
Vines, weeds, trees give way to workers

Waterford - The rusty scoreboard, dilapidated storage shed and a fence that was hard to distinguish from the encroaching woods outside it at Waterford Country School have been replaced and spiffed up, thanks to a team of volunteers from an East Lyme company.

Employees at Triumph Actuation Systems worked two eight-hour days on Thursday and Friday clearing brush, removing the old bleachers and filling holes in the outfield. They also replenished the school's sports equipment.

About 24 people, or one-quarter, of the company that specializes in the design, development, testing and manufacture of a wide array of aerospace products - decided to volunteer their time for the cleanup project.

Vonne Foster, a Triumph employee, said the goal of the project is to modify the field from a soccer and softball field to a recreational one and to also fix it to a point where it requires less maintenance from school facilities employees.

The two days of work by Triumph employees was one of the school's biggest volunteer efforts, said Juliana Velazquez, the school's director of development and community support.

She said that school staff haven't been able to keep up with the encroaching vines, weeds and brambles and even the few trees that had weaved themselves into the chain link fence over the years.

"This project is a morale booster for the staff but I think it will work wonders for the kids," Velazquez said. "It can and will be used by anyone on campus in any of our programs."

The 350-acre campus serves children and families from southern Connecticut through a variety of programs that include residential treatment, group homes, crisis intervention emergency shelter services and foster care homes in the community.

Trees and bushes around the field had also wound their way into the outfield fence and a team of volunteers worked to clear a 6-foot wide path around the 300-foot long fence. A tarp will be placed on the ground to prevent new growth and wood chips will be placed on top of the tarp to finish that part of the project.

"It's a bunch of little things really, where it will get to a point where no one can do anything about it, but when there are 24 someones it changes things," Matt Garitta, a Triumph IT employee, said.

The woods around the fence had also enclosed the backstop.

Earlier Thursday morning, Ryan Miller used a pole saw to hack away at the vines that had intertwined themselves along all four chain link panels of the backstop. There was even a small bush growing behind home plate.

After tackling what he could with the pole saw, Miller used a pair of cutters and stood on a ladder to cut the vines at the backstop's highest point.

"I grew up on a farm so this is the stuff I grew up doing, the backstop really was the worst of it all," Miller, a Triumph quality engineer, said from his perch on the ladder. "This is my first volunteer experience. Growing up I always had the things I needed, so it's nice to be able to give back."

Triumph Human Resources Director Sheila Edmonds said that additional efforts by the company to improve the school's facilities may continue.

"We're looking at the possibility of making the school our annual project, because they provide such a wonderful service not on to our local community, but on behalf of the state of Connecticut as well," Edmonds said.

The company has 64 locations throughout the globe and every year each location participates in a community service project.

Triumph's WINGS volunteer program kicked off last year when it helped provide backpacks and school supplies to students in need at East Lyme middle and high schools.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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