McALLEN - Monica Trevino, a graduate student and part-time worker in the Retention Office at The University of Texas-Pan American, usually can be found behind a desk on Fridays, filing away a seemingly endless stack of documents.
But Trevino had a nice change of scenery when she traded in filing for sanding duties on Friday, Feb. 11 - one of three community days at RioScape Discovery Park in McAllen.
From digging holes, to sanding posts, Trevino was one of more than 100 UTPA students, staff and faculty who volunteered to help construct the new educational park located behind the McAllen International Museum on Nolana Avenue.
"Being in the theatre program at UTPA, I've done some work like this before," Trevino said while sanding a post.
"Although I must admit I've never spread gravel before. I didn't think it could be so hard," she said, taking a moment to catch her breath. "It could just be the heat from the sun that is making it hard, but I'm sure I'm going to feel this tomorrow."
The construction of RioScape is a community effort sponsored by the Junior League of McAllen, the McAllen International Museum, the city of McAllen and more than 600 volunteers from throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
UTPA has provided assistance from the project's inception.
"Years ago, the museum came to us asking for scientific verification for the validity of a river project to educate young people in the Valley," said Bud Frankenberger, interim vice president for enrollment and student services at UTPA. "Two of our biology professors helped examine plans for the river project, checked the ecological data and helped verify the concepts. And so today is really a completion of the cycle of having worked with the museum from the very earliest conceptual stages."
Although another weekend of work will be needed to complete the project, organizers said they were pleased with the turnout.
"This kind of project just restores your faith in people," said LeAnne Smith, general coordinator for the RioScape project. "We have had all kinds of people come out and lend a helping hand. From Winter Texans to college and high school students, we have had people from all walks of life doing their part in making this project happen."
Once completed, RioScape will be a unique outdoor playground available to children of all ages and abilities, providing spectacular interactive fun that encourages curiosity and learning while playing.
The innovative park will focus on the components and value of the Rio Grande River by creating a mock river flowing through the park.
"The purpose of the park will be to provide a fun environment to demonstrate science concepts that are difficult to teach in a classroom setting," Smith said. "Concepts such as irrigation, conservation, sources of energy, geography and our ecosystem will be demonstrated at this park."
Smith said the construction plan started months ago when the Junior League contracted with Leathers and Associates, an architectural firm experienced in community-built playgrounds.
"There is that same kind of prairie spirit, that bond-building spirit, that has always been here," said Bob Leathers, founder of Leathers and Associates. "That spirit is alive and well. America's past can be its future, too. The collaboration and volunteer effort has an empowering effect on participants in all communities."
Idialia Zuniga, a UTPA senior, agreed.
"I feel like I'm taking part in something that's going to be giving back to kids in the Rio Grande Valley," Zuniga said. "When I was growing up, there weren't any parks like this for me to play in. It's nice to know that things like this are happening here in the Valley."
Zungia is a member of the Sisters Dedicated to the Latino Community organization at UT Pan American.
"We are here to help out in any way we can to make this cause happen," Zuniga said, while picking out scrap wood from a pile. "We do this kind of stuff often as a group. Even though I may not be considered a skilled laborer, I'm doing what I can to clean up around the construction area."
Erendira Longoria, a UTPA freshman and fellow member of the Sisters Dedicated to the Latino Community, said volunteering is in her nature.
"Helping out just gives me a sense of pride I can't get from anywhere else," Longoria said. "Everybody here is doing what they can. Some people here are more skilled then others, but every job - big or small - is important in making this project happen."
Frankenberger's area encompasses a vast array of student services - from clubs and activities to registration and financial aid. He began organizing the UTPA volunteer effort as a staff development activity for his area, but expanded it to include the entire University when interest was expressed.
"Taking on projects together, even when they are unrelated to work, frequently fosters a cooperative relationship, which is one of the reasons that rope courses are so popular in team building," Frankenberger said. "This project lends itself to that kind of team work as well as helping a community effort."
David Mariscal, UTPA assistant dean of students, said the project had an extremely positive influence on the community as well as the University students, faculty and staff.
"All you have to do is take a look around and you see people working with people for a common good," Mariscal said. "This has brought us all together, giving us a chance to really get to know each other.
"This is not only a construction work site, but a work site in strengthening the bond between UTPA employees and students," Mariscal said. "We've all come together for the good of the community."