Teen Talk: Teens rally to clean up small Wildomar park

By Blake Echt, Teen Reporter

Temescal Canyon High School friends of Esmeralda El Srouji gather at Heritage Park in Wildomar to help her in her cleanup efforts.
~Teen Talk

To a high school student in our little district, community service is something required to graduate. Often teens just go and try to get the bare minimum out of the way and call it good. Though I personally find nothing unethical about that practice, it seems as though there’s a missing potential from the service requirement for teenagers to do something to really impact their community.

At Temescal Canyon, the IB Program requires a little bit more extensive community service in which a student or group of students has to carry out the planning and preparations to a large service project ? somewhat like an Eagle Scout project.

One student at Temescal Canyon has taken it upon herself, along with other students of course, to organize an effort to clean up a park dear to her heart. Esmeralda El Srouji (from here on out to be referred as Esme), a friend and classmate of mine, has contacted Wildomar City Council officials for permission to clean up Heritage Park in Wildomar.

Now, this may seem like a small feat, but the fact is that opportunities such as these do not present themselves often, and students generally do not have the drive or the motivation to ask the city for permission to change something.

Naturally, I had to ask her the question “Why did you want to clean up the park? What is its importance?”

Esme replied, ever so sweetly, that the park had been a constant throughout her life. “There’s an elementary school behind [the park] and I live around the corner, so my parents used to walk us to school every day through that park until one day we went and it was closed.”

The park would then have a history of closing and reopening; though mainly just to allow kids to walk to the elementary school since most of the park itself was closed off. It even got to the point where Wildomar lost all the funding for all the parks completely. "However, that didn’t last long because we got the funding back!” Esme exclaims.

Furthermore, this park is often overlooked in Wildomar for other larger parks, which bring in much more revenue due to their services, such as snack bars and baseball fields and the like. The poor little park has been neglected by the city, and is in a serious state of disrepair because of recent floods.

Driven on by this love of public space, I asked Esme next, “How did you get the idea to fix up the park in the first place?” This question was fairly simple to answer, so I thought, because it’s one of our requirements for the IB program. But the answer I received showed nothing of self-interest residing within it.

Esme replied, “I saw that it wasn’t being cleaned regularly and it looked pretty bad already, so I decided I should do something about it instead of waiting to see what the city would do.”

Now, before you interpret this statement as malicious, I can tell you there was no hostile intent. You see, the city has to find ways to make money off of the local populations, and so naturally they’ll focus on the larger parks to ensure a steady flow of income. A smaller park then, would receive less attention from the city, and so it is up to the community around the park to see what they would like to do with the public space.

So the last question I asked was with regard to Esme’s challenge of leading the project, much of it being her own initiative. In response, she stated, “The hardest part is having everyone on the team agree with one another.”

The challenge here is that many of the workers, including myself, are all friends. Now this goes along nicely as far as getting along and having fun, but that is where the problem presents itself. When it comes to getting something done, there’s a time where you have to get serious and put out an effort to get work done.

When everyone is friends with each other, it gets hard to separate being a friend from being a worker; though Esme also says that “everything should be falling together soon.”

As a member of this project, I am severely touched by this story. Recently, the park at Indian Beach in Canyon Lake has been renovated and a large playground has been added. Similarly to Esme, I also grew up with a park nearby as a constant.

Indian Beach used to have a smaller sized playground, but my mom and my sisters used to go there with me all the time to play. And I also remember a small pond my dad liked to fish that would extend all the way back to a drainage pipe. The park at Indian Beach was absolutely beautiful, covered in trees and the small play sets ? especially the teeter totter. And for some reason I was extremely fond of the yellow spider that was there to sit on.