For any city, losing 120 homes and 8 commercial buildings within 24 hours would be a disaster. For the people of Malden, Wash. – population 293 – the Babb Road fire was a disaster, wiping out the entire business district and destroying properties that had belonged to families for generations. By the end of Labor Day weekend in 2020, the city was a smoldering ruin.
In the nearby town of Spangle, help emerged from an unexpected source, children between the ages of 10 and 14. The Pathfinders Club is a department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) that works with the cultural, social, and religious education of children and adolescents. In Spangle, club members were thinking about ways to support the community during the pandemic when the fire broke out.
“We started to think about ways to help,” says Scott Rivas, a Pathfinders executive and senior project manager with SCJ Alliance in their Spokane office. SCJ also has offices in Lacey and Centralia and places great importance on community involvement.
One of our leaders, Richie Brower, set up a meeting between the kids, the mayor and the city clerk, and we toured the city, ”Rivas said. “We were walking through the ashes, including what had been their municipal park. . “It didn’t take long for the group to conclude that a new park for Malden residents, especially families, was a project they could all support.
As a first step, Rivas brought in Kenneth Van Voorhis of SPVV Landscape Architects to explain the planning process and share how to “view” a project. “He put papers all over the wall and started scratching the chickens,” says Rivas. “Children’s ideas were everywhere.
One of the next steps was to assess the ideas based on an understanding of the community’s needs and the budget they needed to work with. “They needed something low maintenance and they didn’t have a big tax base,” says Rivas. “We wanted to create something family-friendly because there are a lot of families living in the town of Malden.”
The process was similar to experiences with other SCJ Alliance projects, but also different in key points. “You approach the problem the same way by brainstorming, evaluating them and coming up with a realistic solution,” Rivas notes, “but it was slower because the kids had less knowledge, so there was an educational aspect. I realized they weren’t going to see it the same way I did, and that’s a good thing.
In April 2021, the group was set to present two different plans to Malden City Council in a virtual meeting. Several weeks later, at a regional Pathfinder reunion, a larger group visited the town to help with the clean-up and planting of shrubs when they got a surprise. “Someone came and said, ‘We need your children. We have a tent for your club and we have citizens ready to hear their presentation, ”recalls Rivas. “It was totally unexpected. They presented the best they could in an impromptu exchange with the citizens of the city and did a fantastic job.
The experience was a learning curve and a stretch for Pathfinders. In addition to a better understanding of engineering and public speaking, they also gained knowledge in project management. “I learned how much money it takes to build a playground,” says Sam Cromwell, club member. “Also, how much work it takes to make sure a playground is safe and meets requirements, and how difficult it is to get everyone on the same plan when they have such different ideas. I look forward to the impressive park, knowing that I helped design and build it.
Pathfinder colleague Kaitlyn Rivas found the process inspiring. “The most rewarding thing is that we are helping the community rebuild a safe, lively place where children and adults can relax,” she says. “I can’t wait to see little kids who will probably never be the same because their house was set on fire, play on the playground and have fun – and know that I have helped and made someone’s life back. ‘a little better. “
Rivas saw the club members grow throughout the project as they continued to take on new challenges. “The best thing they can get out of it is confidence,” he says. “It helped them gain confidence in their leadership abilities. “
The next step will be to solicit more feedback from residents of Malden on the two plans for the park. In the fall, SCJ Alliance will develop a master plan that encompasses both Malden and Pine City, also affected by the fire, with the goal of finalizing it over the winter and starting construction in the spring of 2022. The Funding for the park will come through private donations, supported by the Whitman County United Way, sources of funding for public projects and donations raised by Hope Builders, a nonprofit, leader of the Pathfinder, Richie Brower, founded in 2018 to connect youth to community needs.
In addition to the plans for the park, Pathfinders also rebuilt lawn mowers for residents of Malden and built coat racks for the many clothing donations the town has received. “I think the kids have learned that there are many ways you can serve your community,” says Rivas. “They understood that they could make a difference.
The kids also got a taste of the kind of jobs people have, from engineering and planning to public education. For people a few years into their career, SCJ has a number of positions currently open. To learn more, visit the SCJ Alliance website.