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Na Mea Pono: Kona mom starts group to improve neighborhood playground

<i>KITV</i><br/>In this Na Mea Pono
In this Na Mea Pono

By Diane Ako

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    KONA, Hawaii (KITV) — In this Na Mea Pono, a mom in Kona has taken it upon herself to fix up a beloved neighborhood playground. Its official name is Charles Lunalilo Playground, but most locals call it Blue Park because the equipment’s all blue.

Even from far away, it’s easy to see the state of disrepair at Charles Lunalilo Playground — the torn surface, faded equipment, and some slides boarded up.

Maly Romero recalls the day in 2021 when she first arrived there.

“I took my little one to the park and saw the state of the park. It was the 4th of July. There was plywood where slides should be and the surfaces were falling apart. I said, ‘Why do we have this infrastructure for our keiki?'” Romero said.

Romero decided to do something about it. She asked the county for help but was told there were no funds. Hawaii County confirms that, and adds, it really appreciates and counts on public/private partnerships, like the one she created.

“We have been fortunate to have a three-fold increase in our department’s maintenance and repair budget since 2020 (was under $500k), but the backlog of facility repairs and the fact that about 25% of our maintenance and repair budget is spent repairing facilities due to vandalism, theft and homelessness has us chasing our tails in our attempts to keep our approximately 300 facilities safe and operational,” Department of Parks and Recreation Director Maurice C. Messina said.

“We truly appreciate the public/private partnerships created in Hawaii County through our ‘Friends’ program. Volunteer citizen groups such as Friends of the Park, Friends of the Zoo, Friends of the Pool, etc. work closely with our staff to help keep our facilities safe and enjoyable for the public. It’s not unheard of to have over 100 volunteers coming out on a Saturday to beautify their neighborhood park with fresh paint, small repairs, and assisting with the installation of new equipment,” he added.

Romero recalls upon hearing that, she thought to herself, “Something needs to be done about this. I started a nonprofit.”

Romero started Kona Playgrounds Foundation, which now has about 15 members. She wants to raise $125,000 to improve the playground. She is a full-time Realtor, mother, and wife.

“Kids thrive when outdoors. Having playgrounds that look up to par is important. The state of that specific park is not acceptable. We need to do better as a community,” Romero said.

Tanya Rubleva is one of the moms who joined the nonprofit.

“Our kids deserve an amazing playground. What Maly’s doing is just fantastic. I’m really grateful,” Rubleva said.

In October, Romero had enough money to buy paint and some new equipment. Volunteers from H & R Block, Nextdoor, and the neighborhood spent the day fixing up part of the playground.

“What she’s done already has an amazing start. The playground has a different feel to it with that little addition,” Rubleva said.

“The Friends of Charles Lunalilo Playground understood our budget challenges and have really stepped up to help enhance their neighborhood park. We count on Friends groups such as these, and our goal is to expand the Friends program even further because there are a lot of people on our island who wish to volunteer and give back, and public park facilities is a great place for this to happen,” Messina said.

Romero estimates it’ll be another couple of years until she can do more repairs, but it’s a start. And her message to others is, take ownership in your neighborhood.

“If you see something in your community that needs attention, start a group and get together,” Romero urged, adding, “Keep sharing the word because we still got more work to do. Aloha!”

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