On Aug. 7, school officials, parents, students and community members gathered on the grounds of St. Catherine-St. Lucy School for a ribbon-cutting ceremony held to celebrate the installation of a small park on the school’s playground. Father George Omwando, St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Parish’s pastor, prayed and sprinkled holy water on the gathering. Young, smiling children lined up for inaugural trips down the slide. The associate superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago even showed up. 

The small park, built with a $25,000 donation from Enchanted Backpack — a Bensenville, Ill.-based charitable organization that provides resources to schools in need — may seem quaint to the uninitiated. 

For students like 7-year-old Danielle Porter, however, the park is a paved and wood-chipped oasis amid a concrete expanse. 

“When it was just concrete, I always tripped,” Porter said during last Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Now with the blacktop and the woodchips, I feel safer, because when I trip it won’t be as bad.” 

Dan Doody, who volunteers on St. Catherine’s community board, said that the school received free backpacks stuffed with school supplies from Enchanted Backpacks three years ago, which qualified it for the $25,000 grant. School officials applied for the grant in August and construction started in April, Doody said. 

“For 100 years, kids have been playing on asphalt,” Doody said, referencing the school’s long, storied history. 

Sharon Lemy, school’s principal, said that around 85 percent of the school’s roughly 180 preschool through eighth-grade students are from Austin, which makes the addition of a proper play area all the more critical. 

“There was really nothing for them to do except run around and fall down,” said Erin Durkin, St. Catherine St. Lucy’s preschool director. “Injuries happened every day. Skinned knees, bumped heads.” 

Arnette Young, a longtime eighth-grade teacher at the school, echoed Durkin. 

“It’s been hard — they’ve hard injuries on this playground,” she said. “I’ve seen some of the smaller kids going into the office. This is something much needed for the smaller children. I’m really excited for them to have their own space. We have a large Austin population, so it’s very important for them to have somewhere to come and play safely.”

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