Surviving Dougy Center play structure gives volunteers hope

They suspect an arsonist torched their main building; find out why they decided to dedicate a new playground – in the shadow of the charred ruins of their center – not long after the devastating blaze …

With its burned main building as a backdrop, Donna Schuurman, Executive Director of The Dougy Center, welcomes guests to the play structure dedication ceremony.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Five days after an arsonist may have set the facility ablaze, Donna Schuurman, executive director of The Dougy Center, at 3909 SE 52nd Avenue, was standing and looking at the burned building. “There is not a room that is not damaged. The northwest corner is incinerated; in the kitchen and playrooms, nothing is recognizable.”

She added that very little is salvageable from the building. “Anything that is porous cannot be saved – books and teddy bears, blankets – they’re all gone.”

Nevertheless, Schuurman said, they’ve been using their other nearby building to hold meetings, and haven’t cancelled group sessions. “Our mission will continue.”

Donna Schuurman tells why the play structure dedication is a “bittersweet” moment for her and the volunteers.

A bittersweet gathering
Schuurman and 40 supporters gathered on June 29, not to further bemoan their losses – but instead, to celebrate the dedication of dedicate a new, colorful play structure that graces the back yard of the center.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” she observed. “I look one way and I see the burned building; I look the other way and see the new play structure, and see children and healing.”

As she began the formal dedication ceremony, Schuurman reminded those present of the Center’s mission. “All the families who come to The Dougy Center have experienced worst tragedy of life – the death of a parent, brother or sister, or close friend. Here, they find understanding and healing. No one died in this fire; and all who are involved with the center – all of them – said, ‘We will rebuild.”

18-year-volunteer Barbie Rice tells how her sadness at seeing the destroyed building turned to joy when she saw that the new play structure near it was unharmed in the fire.

From devastation, hope
With that, Schuurman introduced an 18-year volunteer at the center, and woman behind the new play structure, Barbie Rice.

Rice told how, the day after the fire, she felt compelled to drive across town and survey the charred remains of the main building. “I’m heartbroken and devastated, and can’t believe that this house – the home for our children and grieving families – was damaged. Inside, I saw a picture of Dougy, and the charred stuffed animals. Just a couple of days before, I was in the kitchen, popping popcorn and eating M&Ms with the little children.”

As she left the building, Rice said she hesitated before wandering behind the building. “It was just too good to hope for. There was this green grass, and this beautiful play structure.”

Rice continued, “I looked at the building and thought of all the stories shared and all the stories told, and all the tears, and all the work. We know how to grieve, we know how to heal, and we know how to rebuild. This play structure is a metaphor for the way that we will be, and always are. This is the best day of my life.”

Her son, Brian Rice, President of Key Bank for Oregon and Washington, stepped up and told the group why the family had donated the play structure in her name. “You’ve been an incredible spirit for our family. It was honor for all of us to get together and make a small tribute to you, to place and we know you love so dearly.”

With the snip of the scissors, Barbie Rice officially dedicates the new Dougy Center play structure.

Dedicated to play
Before the ribbon was cut, Schuurman pointed out the dedication plaque that read, “To the children of The Dougy Center, ‘Some days are just meant for play!‘.”

With children from the center could hardly contain themselves, waiting to try it out, as they joined Rice at the ceremonial ribbon. With a snip of the scissors, it was open for play.

After the fire, the message on dedication plaque is even more meaningful, Rice says.

Thankful for support
Although she said it’s too soon to set a timetable, as they continue assessing the damage and consider reconstruction scenarios, Schuurman vowed, “What I do know is that we will rebuild. We will come back. We look on this as a marathon, not a sprint.”

And, while good-hearted folks want to replace the charred teddy bears and toys, there’s currently no place to store them. “Right now, financial contributions are the most appreciated. We’ve received quite a few gifts online; many locally, but some from all over the world.”

You too can help; check their website to learn more:

Trying out the new play structure is Lili Caldwell getting a lift down from her mom, Elizabeth.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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