Volunteers beautify new Richmond site

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Volunteers beautify new Richmond siteWhen the Richmond Elementary School family learned that the school had just a few weeks to move to a new campus, scores of volunteers added their efforts to that of the countless contractors working around the clock to make it happen.

Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash announced that, after structural engineers evaluated local school sites after July’s earthquakes, the required investment to reopen Richmond was more than the district could justify. Since Richmond is already slated for redundancy because Department of Defense funding has been approved to build a facility off the Navy base, officials decided instead to move the school temporarily to the Vieweg Education Center.

Although the start of the school year will be shifted from Aug. 13 to Aug. 19 for both Richmond and Gateway campuses (see related letter, Page 4), district officials note the herculean undertaking by staff, contractors and volunteers for meeting even the delayed timeline.

However, thanks in part to SSUSD parent Kimm Washburn, the effort got some outside help over the weekend.

Washburn is the coordinator of the “Just Serve” website, which connects volunteers with service projects. Since the earthquakes, some 811 volunteers have contributed some 4,200 man-hours on 13 different projects. One of those was the effort to move, and then help prepare the new campus, for Richmond students.

Among those who responded to that call is Lancaster resident Vern Beazel, who ended up bringing a busload of 60 school-age helpers to work at Richmond and Gateway last weekend.

“Even though it was tough planning everything, since we were not sure what we would be allowed to do until the last minute, it was wonderful to have that help,” said Washburn.

She said that in order to avoid getting in the way of ongoing contract work, the team decided to help pick up trash on the roadways leading to the school, clean up the landscape on campus, rebuild and plant garden boxes and put up a new Richmond logo to help welcome incoming students.

“We also had the kids paint rocks for a rainbow rock garden at the school,” she said.

“I heard a lot of comments over the weekend like, ‘It’s already starting to look like home!’”

Including the local volunteers, more than 100 youth showed up to help, along with some 20 adult volunteers.

Washburn said she was thankful to have something to occupy herself after the earthquakes, “I think I didn’t feel a lot of the nerves that negatively affected other people because I didn’t really have time to think about it.

“Seeing so many people who are willing to give to their community gives you something good to focus on. Seeing people who are helping does help lift that burden of anxiety. You realize that you are a part of a team — a family — that you can count on in times of crisis.”

“This was the largest turnout of volunteers I have seen in 15 years of administration,” said Richmond Principal Michael Yancey.

“They did a fantastic job … everything they accomplished really helped make the school inviting and welcoming for our families.”

Although the new campus will not have some of the specialized features unique to Richmond, Yancey said he is excited about some of the additional space the new campus offers.

“I am also looking forward to the newly modernized classrooms with the latest in teaching technology that our district has available.

“The updated facility and classrooms will be a great support to our students and families in growing and developing academic skills.”

Yancey thanked the community in general for the support shown through a difficult time. “So many have not only come to the school and volunteered their time, but have also been very generous in donating supplies and materials to help our program. It is very inspiring to be a part of such a caring and giving community that has really come together and stepped up to help our school and our children.”

Beazel learned about the earthquakes partly because his daughter lives in Ridgecrest. “Her family came to our house after the first earthquake and stayed for a day or two, so I was very aware of what was going on out there.”

As first counselor of the Lancaster East Stake Presidency for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Beazel was planning a youth conference for the Lancaster students. The event always includes a service component — along with fun activities for the participants.

“We were having a hard time finding really meaningful service — we don’t want to just send our youth out for busywork. So the thought came to my mind that Ridgecrest might have some real needs we could help fill.”

His committee loved the idea, and this year’s convention started to take a new shape to a more service-oriented focus.

“Even though we didn’t have as much ‘fun’ things planned, I think the kids really enjoyed it. Going somewhere and meeting new people is always an adventure, but I think they really enjoyed knowing they were helping people who needed it.”

Beazel also noted what a pleasure it was to work with Washburn on the project. “If I could deal with someone like her all the time, I’d give up a finger. She is a great asset for your community.”

Because of the earthquakes, the local LDS youth had canceled their convention. So after helping at the schools on Saturday morning, the local youth were invited to join in for food and activities with their Lancaster counterparts.

“I think the people from Ridgecrest were really excited. They come to a lot of our events, but I don’t know if a youth group has ever gone to Ridgecrest before,” said Beazel. “It made me realize that we need to make more of an effort in the future to make the trip out more often.”

He also shared that the day yielded a poignant observation on what was nationally a tragic day. The driver of the charter bus for the Lancaster youth spent his time listening to reports over the radio of the El Paso shooting.

“I think he was moved by the fact that these kids were out volunteering service. He said, ‘Maybe if more kids got involved like this, we would have fewer tragedies like this.’”

Pictured: Youth from Lancaster clean up debris around the new Richmond Elementary campus, which will occupy the former Vieweg site — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-08-09