Mayor Tom Bates and kids cut ribbon on the new play structure at the Ursula Sherman Village on Harrison Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

For more than two years, the homeless children at the Ursula Sherman Village on Harrison Street in West Berkeley only had an empty lot to play in. The decrepit play structure that had stood in the yard for years was shut down because it was no longer safe.

“It was old,” explained Boona Cheema, the Executive Director of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS) which was founded in 1971 and runs the village. “It wasn’t safe, so we took it down.”

Thanks to the intervention of the Rotary Club of Berkeley and assorted affiliates, the 24 children at Ursula Sherman Village now have a state-of-the-art play structure and playground to play in. Officials from the Rotary, BOSS, and the city of Berkeley gathered Monday afternoon for the official ribbon cutting ceremony of the playground.

“It’s already made a huge difference,” said Cheema. “The kids feel it’s their place, that it was done for them. They are so excited.”

Evidence was everywhere Monday that the kids were enjoying the structure. As adults mingled around chatting before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the children ran all around the play structure, climbed up its stairs, and played on its bars.

Kids wait during the dedication ceremony for the new play structure. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“It’s better than what we had,” said Merida Young, who has been living at the Village with her six-year old and 17-month old since December. “It was nothing but grass. It’s something for them to hop on, jump on, slide down.”

BOSS currently serves 100 people, both homeless families and single adults, at the Village.

Excavating the playground, laying new concrete paths, and erecting the play structure cost about $35,000, according to Grier Graff, chair of the Rotary Club’s project committee. The Rotary and its affiliates donated about $12,400 to the project, the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s grant donated $19,000, and an anonymous donor gave about $10,000.

About 25 Rotarians came to the site over multiple days to build the play structure. They were joined by 24 Cal Rotaracts (college students), four interactors (students from Berkeley High) and four residents, said Grier. The entire project took about a month to design and build, he said.

“It’s beautiful,” Mayor Tom Bates said at the dedication ceremony. “It really is great. The kids are going to have a chance to have a wonderful outdoor activity.”

Kids run around on new play structure at Ursula Sherman Village. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Installing platform of play structure. Photo: Don Melandry
Raising a bar during the building of the play structure. Photo: Don Melandry
Completing construction of the play structure. Photo: Don Melandry

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...