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Art, Nature, & Community Come Together to Create New Play Space
A drab play space will glow with color thanks to a new mural at the Inukai Family Boys & Girls Club. The City of Hillsboro Community Arts Program and the Public Art Program sponsored local artist Arturo Villaseñor to involve youth in a mural covering the entire 96’ wall. He gathered ideas from the young people, including everything from “we are all a family” to “show flags from all over the world,” and has covered the wall with colorful images that communicate America’s welcome to people from all nations. The teen club in particular participated in design and painting, and now calls it “our wall.”
Villaseñor’s artwork has had high visibility recently with his murals for The Frida Project and at the Green Community Plaza at the M&M Marketplace. After receiving a fine arts education in Mexico, Villaseñor did the meticulous work of historical restoration of significant buildings in Mexico City. His paintings have been displayed at Hillsboro Civic Center Auditorium, the Portland Art Center, Concordia University, and Multnomah Art Center, as well as the Forest Grove and Brookwood Public Libraries.
Every day, 200 youth ages 6 -18 stream into the Inukai Club, tucked away on a quiet street in Hillsboro. They can use computers, get help with homework, do art, play in the gym, and get snacks, with low-income and people of color making up 80 percent of the population served. Parents pay a nominal fee and know that their kids are safe, and supported by caring staff.
A former parking lot and dumpster storage area is an outdoor activity space. The bland space needed an upgrade. Rachel Schutz, Senior Director of Youth, Family, and Trauma Informed Services at the Club declares that, “having a more suitable play space was high on everyone’s wish list.”
To transform the space, the Club partnered with Depave, a non-profit that recruits volunteers “to change their surroundings from pavement to thriving landscapes that bring people together, foster stewardship, increase safety, augment play and learning spaces, provide places to grow food, capture storm water, and add to the urban tree canopy.” Depave’s designer created a plan for the space drawing on the input of youth at the Club. “Nature play” was the overwhelming first choice. “Nature play” is a growing movement in park design with less structured outdoor spaces that encourage children to use their imagination, connect to their natural environment, and interact with others in creative, active play. Climbing over logs, building a shelter out of branches, or digging a hole in the dirt are the old-fashioned joys of outdoor play that are rare in today’s world of screens. Advocates say that, “Nature play significantly improves all aspects of child development – physical, cognitive, social, and emotional.”
At an October work party, Depave volunteers were joined by parents, youth, staff, and former staff. Over 100 volunteers devoted a day of hard but satisfying labor to remove the asphalt paving. Depave brought on Miguel Villanueva of New Village Masonry and Construction for excavation, installation of new permeable pavers, and creation of the play space. Miguel attended Inukai Club as a youth, understands the community value of its program, and is giving a discounted rate on his services.
The work ahead includes: importing new soil, installing 600 native plants, and building the rain garden and nature play elements. A stage, seating, and bike racks will complete the remake of this 4500 square foot parking lot into a safe, accessible outdoor play area. The brilliantly colored mural will complete the transformation.
In addition to the transformation of the space, there is the impact on lives. Depave board member Carlos Nuñez Quinard, a translator for the court system, has helped coordinate the program. He says, “This project hits home with me because I spend so much of my time at the juvenile courthouse and working with the Department of Human Services. One of the main factors in kids getting involved with the judicial system is a lack of support, mentors, or safe spaces, I think our prevention efforts go a long way with projects like this.”
When the new play space is inaugurated in the spring, it will be the result of many hands and hearts working together to support our next generation. Rachel Schultz surveys the work in progress with satisfaction. “We at Inukai have been trying to get something done with this space for years, and it means the world to me that so many members of the community have joined in to make it happen!”