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Boy Scout leads effort to refurbish playground

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Weed-choked lot cleaned up and fixed 

By Tim Hadac

About 2% of boys enrolled in Scouting have the drive and persistence to put in the years of work required to get them to the top and earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

Anthony Santiago is one of them.

While he is not yet officially an Eagle, the West Lawn resident has completed his Eagle service project and is on the brink of receiving the rank.

His project saw a successful renovation of a church playground in the Canaryville neighborhood.

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Photos show the dilapidated, weed-choked “before” and the shiny new “after” of the church playground. –Supplied photos

“It was a lot of work,” he told the Greater Southwest News-Herald. “But in the end, it was worth it. The people at the church (especially Pastor Annie Gonzalez) are happy, and kids can play there safely again.”

Santiago is a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 1439, sponsored by Two Holy Martyrs Parish. But he began his journey nearly a decade ago when he joined Cub Scout Pack 3465, sponsored by Five Holy Martyrs Church in Brighton Park. He also is a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society.

An Eagle Scout project is typically required to improve a community. As he searched for ideas, Santiago spoke with Robert Martinez, a top assistant to 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez. Martinez made him aware of Union Avenue United Methodist Church, 4350 S. Union. The church has an adjacent playground, but in recent years it had been neglected. Paint was peeling, benches were broken and waist-high weeds choked everything.

“It needed a lot of help,” Santiago said. “It was a good choice for a service project.”

As a project requirement, Santiago had to set goals, plan the work and recruit a team of volunteers to get things done. He assembled a team of 15 people and succeeded in getting a donation of materials like wood chips from Lopez. The management and employees of Home Depot and Lowe’s also played a key role.

Earlier this fall, the team got busy scraping off old paint, applying a new coat, fixing broken benches, whacking weeds and more.

If all goes according to plan and the project report is approved by a Boy Scouting panel, Santiago should receive his Eagle Award in the weeks ahead.

“What he did for us was wonderful,” said Union Avenue United Methodist Church Pastor Annie Gonzalez. “The transformation is remarkable and inspiring.”

Beyond Scouting, he is a sophomore at Curie High School, where he is on the varsity football and wrestling teams, and is a cadet in Junior ROTC.

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