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Megan Card, mcard@forumcomm.com, Published June 15 2012

Lending labor, shovels to North Fargo community

FARGO – Wedging his shovel into a 15-foot pile of wood chips, 17-year-old Peter Saintal wiped his brow, looked side-to-side at the volunteers around him and repeated two words.

“Keep digging.”

Saintal, in the process of replacing gravel with wood chips, was a student leader of the recent Madison School Park improvement project spearheaded by the nonprofit Legacy Children’s Foundation.

The renovation of Madison Park, directly behind Madison Elementary School in north Fargo, took place from Monday through Thursday. It was the brainchild of 25 students enrolled in the Legacy Children’s Foundation, which labeled the park unsafe, uncared for and outdated.

The foundation, launched by Executive Director Mary Jean Dehne last year, partnered with the school district, parks department, police department and more than 12 local businesses “to create a safe environment for children and family to be together,” Dehne said.

Saintal, the son of Haitian immigrants, learned English while attending Madison. Because the service project added a full-sized basketball court and a picnic area, and reseeded the soccer field, Saintal feels like he finally gave back to the place that gave him his start in life.

“As a community, we are growing, we are pushing ourselves to be a better community,” he said.

The drive to renovate Madison Park pushed 18-year-old Regina Nyanfor to do something she never felt comfortable with – public speaking.

Nyanfor was one of the project leaders along with Saintal and Emilee Miller. Being a leader meant asking local businesses for support. Though she calls herself “seriously shy,” Nyanfor gave presentations and speeches about the foundation, what it stands for and why the community should be involved.

And the community listened.

Wayne Gadberry, CEO of local business Magnum, stepped up. Twenty of his employees offered manual labor to help the foundation’s project. An estimated $10,000 worth of wood chips, $6,000 worth of cement and construction equipment were just a few of the donations made by local businesses.

While foundation students volunteered time and labor, Dehne, a former educator, said they also gained self-worth.

“Volunteerism builds a community, it builds respect among people,” Dehne said. “It gives you a purpose, and it makes you feel good. It creates pride within the people, but also within the community.”

Giving back was a new concept for some students. But for 16-year-old Smith Modi, who left South Sudan at the age of 6 with his family during a civil war, giving back and finishing the project was necessary to appreciate what he has.

“In Fargo, there are plenty of people who have a lot but still want more,” Modi said. “Back in Sudan, we just take whatever we have, whatever we can get and just deal with it. So here, we are just trying to give to the people that need it, so they can do the same for someone else.”

Dehne said when the project was completed Thursday night, several students asked what was next.

“They just had so much fun, and they had something to look forward to every day,” she said. “The pride they had in looking at the playground after we were all done was just very heart-warming.”

Dehne said she has a couple of ideas in mind for the next service project, but for now, she is satisfied with the Madison Park achievements.

“There were little kids just 4 years old to 75-year-olds working together for the neighborhood and the community,” she said. “They had fun achieving a common goal. It was everything we hoped it would be.”

Legacy Children’s Foundation

What is the Legacy Children’s Foundation?

Created by Mary Jean and Jeff Dehne, the Legacy Children’s Foundation is meant to provide at-risk students help in receiving a high school diploma.

What services does the foundation offer?

The foundation offers tutoring options, a rewards system, volunteering opportunities, service-learning experiences and life skills such as leadership, perseverance and honesty.

Where is it offered?

The foundation is based in north Fargo, but the Dehnes hope to expand to all of Fargo, and eventually outside of Fargo within five years.

What are the guidelines to apply?

Student eligibility is based on grade point average, family income and personal difficulties that inhibit learning.

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