A local Eagle Scout candidate and Dunkirk's JROTC Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Charles "Duke" Medema isn't spending his summer lazily watching the weeds grow. Actually, with the blessings of Mayor Anthony Dolce, Public Works Supervisor Tony Gugino, Zoning Officer Allan Zurawski, the leaders of Fredonia Boy Scout Troop 267, the Boy Scout Council, and Senior Army Instructor Sergeant First Class Frank Torain, Medema is actually pulling the weeds out at the playground on Dunkirk's New York Avenue.
"Last April, I was running around town, getting ideas for a service project," Medema says.
All Eagle Scout candidates must complete a major service project in order to be considered for advancement. Medema explained that although there are several places in the county where he knew he could complete this requirement, he wanted to improve something closer to home.
Cadets from Dunkirk’s JROTC program take a short break from cleaning up the playground at the end of New York Avenue in Dunkirk.
Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Duke Medema with Senior Army Instructor Sergeant First Class Frank Torain.
When he saw the condition of the playground on New York Avenue, he knew he had found his project.
"There was so much litter," Medema recalls. "Broken beer bottles, weeds growing everywhere. An old outbuilding had been vandalized countless times and was just dangerous. It wasn't used for anything, so people just broke into it. There were cigarette butts everywhere. That building just needed to be removed."
Medema knew, though, that cleaning up the playground wouldn't involve just labor. This project required a lot of planning.
"I had to go to the Mayor," he says, "and the zoning officer and other city officials. I had to get the project approved with Troop 267's Scoutmaster Chris Eichmann, and then by the regional Boy Scout Council. That alone took a month."
In addition to the City of Dunkirk's cooperation, Medema knew that he would need help doing the actual labor. Like any experienced Boy Scout or Cadet, he knew he could count on other Scouts and Cadets. After getting his Scoutmaster and other Boy Scouts on board, he went to Dunkirk High School's JROTC supervisor, Sergeant First Class Torain, who was excited about the project.
"The Cadets are also involved with service projects as part of the program," Torain says. "This is exactly the kind of thing we look for. We do a lot of work at Camp Gross and other places, but it was nice for them to improve something within the city."
And, as Torain explains, the Cadets did more than just show up.
"I'm very impressed with their enthusiasm," he says. "They're here working as a team; they're not just playing around. This sort of activity builds cohesion in the group. The younger Cadets work with the older ones, and that's how we build a strong unit."
Many of the Cadets even walked to New York Avenue to volunteer, coming from their homes in the center of the city.
The young people's hard work shows: there are no more weeds growing up through the playground's mulch. All of the litter has been picked up. The cigarette butts have been disposed of. There are no broken beer bottles for children to hurt themselves on. Dunkirk can stop replacing the smashed-in doors on that old building; it's gone. The playground looks fresh, safe and clean.
"We're not quite done, though," Medema says. "We need one more day (of good weather) and we'll be all set. We need to put down the landscape fabric, and the City of Dunkirk is going to drop off a load of new mulch."
"It's going to go fast," Torain says. "Especially if we keep having this level of participation from the Cadets."
The playground at the end of New York Avenue is now an inviting place where families can come to spend a fun afternoon. Children can run across a litter-free lawn and tumble down the slide into soft new mulch, all thanks to Duke Medema and his dedicated fellow Scouts and Cadets.