The brisk early morning air was an encouraging start to the day of hard work ahead for volunteers gathered at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) to participate in Valley Partnership’s 25th annual community project.
About 150 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds gravitated towards the unfinished mural on the back wall of SARRC’s Colonel Sanders location on 16th and Cypress streets in Phoenix. The mural, waiting to be filled in with vibrant paint, was the product of SARRC’s students and graphic artist Lisa MacCollum.
The goal of Valley Partnership’s 25th community project wasn’t just to finish the mural. It was to completely renovate the backyard of the Colonel Sanders location. Landscaping, an addition of a large shed, a garden and a greenhouse were all part of project day.
SARRC’s main location on 18th and Van Buren streets also had its children’s garden remodeled, planter boxes installed and a mural painted.
Volunteers consisted of Valley Partnership members and member donors such as Adolfson & Peterson, Vestar, Ryan Companies US Inc., Caretaker Landscape and Markham Contracting. Students from Saint Thomas Aquinas grade school also participated, with a total of 28 student volunteers and parents.
SARRC President Jeri Kendle had a busy day as she helped direct volunteers and participated in the renovation herself. Her excitement was apparent. This project was the culmination of about six months of collaborative volunteer work between Valley Partnership and SARRC.
“I’m excited about everything,” Kendle said. “It’s so incredible to see Valley Partnership support us in such a big way.”
With these changes, SARRC officials hope to further the goal of assisting adult clients in finding employment and expanding their Autism Artisan classes.
“It’s about building a better future for adults with autism,” Kendle explained.
Rick Hearn, Vestar’s director of leasing and this year’s Valley Partnership’s chairman, was not afraid to get his hands dirty as he hauled wheelbarrow loads of gravel.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s hard work. It’s 120 people working hard, side by side. That’s amazing and it’s all done by volunteers,” Hearn said proudly.
Hearn was hauling mulch when he stopped to look at the project’s progress. In just a few hours, the backyard was starting to come together.
“What it boils down to is paying it forward. We’ve made a contribution and we’re making someone’s life better. That’s the reward,” Hearn said.
The project’s retail cost would be about half a million dollars, Hearn said, explaining “we get it done for a lot less and with volunteer effort.”
“Valley Partnership is a great organization to be a part of for our company. We’re all members of this organization because we believe in their balanced advocacy effort,” Hearn said.
Richard Hubbard, president and CEO of Valley Partnership, worked alongside everyone as well.
“We’ve supported SARRC in smaller ways but this is where we’ve really stepped up,” Hubbard said while observing the backyard’s transformation.
Over the next 60 days, the finishing touches will be added and a monument dedicated to the late Lee Hanley, founder of Vestar and former chair of Valley Partnership, Hubbard said.
The materials and labor for the project were all donated, Hubbard said, adding that “many of these companies are here every year (on project day) and contribute material and money every year.”
Mike Markham Jr., vice president and COO at Markham Contracting, has been working with Valley Partnership for 10 years and was the project committee chairman this year. As far as the design process, Markham did not take the reins in that area, but he was excited about the actual working process.
“I’m a contractor. I like building things,” Markham said laughing.
McCollum guided volunteers on the mural project, which was about 100 feet long and only colored in partially at the start of the morning.
“It’s an interesting process. I see a lot of blank wall when I look at it but then I see the vibrant colors and the progression and I smile. The process is what I like,” McCollum said.
“The beauty is great, but turning employment into reality and seeing everyone out here working towards that cause is the real treasure,” Kendle said.