Make-believe city appears in outer East Portland park

Almost like magic, an entire “city” appeared – then vanished – in Ventura Park, all on one day. See what it was all about, right here …

Kids checked into a “City Hall” to learn what this governmental body does, and to see why what our civic leaders do is important to them.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the third year in a row, a community called “Sunny City” was built in outer East Portland’s Ventura Park – this year, on a pleasant, sunny Sunday – August 7. The “city” was a pretend city, made up of booths set up in the park.

“I first heard this kind of thing being done when I visited Romania,” said organizer Natalia Gramada. “I wanted to participate in one there, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do so. So, I decided to do Sunny City here. We need an opportunity for our kids and our church, the Sunnyside Seventh-Day Adventist Church, to get out and do something for the community.”

Portland Fire & Rescue Firefighter Tim Gilbert was marking off a child’s “Sunny City Passport”, while Lt. Shon Christensen looked on.

Natalia Gramada, organizer of Sunny City, and her church’s Pastor Scott LeMert, explained that they’d expected this year’s one-day “city” to welcome as many as 600 children.

The whole idea, Gramada said, was to help create the feeling of a community for children. “Here they can learn what it’s all about; all the different things that it takes to run a city. It’s done especially for children to learn about community organizations. And, we’re helping people to make friends with one another.”

With the help of a core group of eight volunteers, Gramada reached out to the police and fire departments, the neighborhood association, and community service organizations to assemble Sunny City. “We’re happy so many of these community people came together. There is a saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. And it takes a group to raise a village,” she quipped. “We have more than 100 volunteers helping out today.”

Working the grill, volunteer Bill Hohensee helps cook up vegeburgers for hungry Sunny City visitors.

At the East Portland Neighborhood Office “office”, Hazelwood neighborhood’s Chair, Arlene Kimura, said she’s been pleased both with the turnout – and the tone – of these annual events.

“We’ve been very busy at our booth,” said Arlene Kimura, Chair of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association. “It really shows that people want to come out and do family-style events like this. In fact, it’s been packed; it’s busier this year than last year.”

Asked if she was concerned that the make-believe city-for-a-day was organized by an area church, Kimura responded, “When we talk to the people of the church, they made a definite point of saying that this is strictly community outreach. I think they’ve done an excellent job of integrating all of the community services. I would be happy to work with them again next year.”

A puppet show entertained many of the kids who came to visit Sunny City this year.

At the “bank”, visitors redeemed passports for prizes, given out by volunteers.

Gramada said they were prepared to see 600 children at this year’s Sunny City. “But, we ran out of some of our materials at 4:00 p.m.; we consider this year to be a big success so far. Back in our first year, we had 194 kids – we only count kids at the event. Last year, 364 children came to see us.”

Looking out, seeing the activity at Sunny City, Gramada said the best part for her is “I love seeing kids learning, and having fun at the same time while learning. I see them enjoying this, and I see adults go through and enjoying it as the kids do.”

Look for Sunny City to reappear next summer in Ventura Park in August, Gramada promised.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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