For most of us this time of year is all about the stress of gift shopping, seasonal decorating, and holiday parties, and it’s easy to lose sight of what the holidays really should be about.  So, to get in the true spirit of the season, we put all the end-of-year hubbub aside on Saturday to join forces with a not-so-small army of enthusiastic volunteers in the South Bay to donate our time and skills to renovate San José’s History Park, in Kelley Park.

Project Inspire Kelley Park Volunteers, December 11, 2010 (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Each year, Santa Clara based NVIDIA Corp. forgoes the traditional corporate holiday party, and donates the money that would have been spent on needless excess calories and revelry, to worthy projects within the community instead.  It’s a win-win situation, not just for the community, but also for our collective waistlines, that honestly probably don’t need any more holiday parties!

More than a 1,000 volunteers were on hand, many of whom were NVIDIA employees, along with their families and friends, working shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the local community.  Skill sets, and ages were varied, but one thing that united everyone on Saturday was the true spirit of holiday giving.  We honestly believe that most often the best gift you can give is a gift of your time, effort and energy, whether it’s for a friend or neighbor who needs assistance, or a local community organization.  This weekend proved how valuable a simple gift of your time can be.

This is the third year we’ve worked with the company’s Project Inspire group.  In 2007 we helped renovate the East Palo Alto Charter School gardens.

Curbstone Crew at the 2007 Project Inspire Rebuilding Day at the East Palo Alto Charter School (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

In 2008 we worked to help set up the new science laboratories at the William C. Overfelt High School in San Jose, carrying and unpacking scores of boxes of Pyrex lab-ware, and instruments.

Curbstone Crew gearing up for Project Inspire 2008 at Overfelt High School in San Jose (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Unfortunately we had to miss the 2009 festivities, but this year I hope we made up for some of our absence through our efforts at Kelley Park.

On Saturday, the Project Inspire 2010 volunteers were divided into almost 40 (yes, four…zero!) separate teams, and then assigned to a wide variety of tasks throughout the park.

Project Inspire's Goals for 2010 (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Some volunteers were painting and renovating the buildings on site that were slowly falling into disrepair, while others were tasked toward outdoor activities, including helping to build an urban garden replete with raised garden beds, and a greenhouse where children in the community can learn the fundamentals of hands-on plant cultivation, and learn about food production and nutrition through A Schmahl Science Workshop that conducts ongoing youth science programs within the park.

Saturday morning, we were assigned to ‘Team 2’.

Team 2: Jon, Clare, Will, Beecher, David, Kedar, Karthik, Navya, and Nikhil (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Each team was lead by an energetic and enthusiastic member of City Year, whose members had spent the entire preceding week coordinating and organizing this event.   Our team leader for the day was the very cheery and encouraging Beecher Daniels, who did an excellent job keeping us ‘fired up’ throughout the day, and making sure we had what we needed to get the day’s tasks completed.  When we arrived we learned that our team’s task for the day was to construct not one, but TWO cedar sheds for use within the park, and we had just over five hours to get them done.

Go Team! We can do it! (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

I was a little skeptical, if I’m honest, that we’d have enough time to get two sheds built, and we had to laugh, as we’d be happy with one shed here at the farm at the moment.  The first project was a small tool shed that would be situated near the park’s bee hives, along with a larger 8′ x 10′ shed that was destined to be used as a workshop in the new urban garden area. At the very least, we knew we’d have to hustle to get both projects complete on time.

Our team was divided early in the day so a few of us could get the smaller shed project out of the way, while the rest of the team began work on the larger shed.  As we both have a fair amount of experience constructing all sorts of things from chicken coops, and raised garden beds, to a full room addition in our first house, and seemingly endless house repairs, we split up for the first part of the day, to put our collective skills to the best use between the two projects.

I went to work with three other team members on the small shed project in the morning, while Mr. Curbstone began working on the larger shed.  The small shed was a kit shed with prefabricated panels, so it wasn’t too tremendously difficult to construct, but if you’ve ever put together one of these kits you know that sometimes things don’t always go exactly to plan.

Before lunch the walls were up, and we were ready to add the roof

Some of the manufacturing was a little …how should I put it…askew?  We were missing an important shed component (the door header) early in the morning, and had some minor alignment issues, but overall the assembly went well, and by mid-afternoon we were finished, with a beautiful shed to show for our efforts, and more than ready to pitch in on the larger shed with the rest of the crew.

Small cedar shed crew: Clare, Navya, Kartik, and Will

I think it turned out rather well…

Once assembled, the small shed was later relocated to the garden area near the bee hives (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

The large shed though was much more tricky to assemble, and the foundation for the shed wasn’t complete until mid-afternoon.

The goal was to turn this...into a functioning shed by the end of the day

To make the best use of time, the rest of the team had assembled the floor sections, wall and roof panels by the time we were done with our small shed project.

The floor and wall panels were assembled in the morning, and would be moved out into the garden in the afternoon

Once we rejoined the rest of the team it was time to move the panels out to the foundation in the garden.  Once the wall and roof panels were assembled, the shed seemed to go up quite quickly.  We were scheduled to end work on the projects by 3:45 PM, but by 3:30, honestly, it was looking highly unlikely that our team could complete this shed on time.  We had the floor and three of the walls in place, but still had the doors, roof, and trim to install.

The shed takes shape as the roof is installed (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

However, not being a team to leave a job half-done, we made it clear we were willing to see it through, and were glad everyone agreed to stay at least until we ran out of daylight to work by.

It began to look as though we actually might finish! (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Determined to see this project through, the entire team rallied, procuring as many spare hammers, drills, and ladders as could be mustered.

Team 2 ROCKS! The doors weren't on yet, but we paused for a quick photo as the sun was setting (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

After this photo was taken, we quickly went back to work, installing soffits and trim.

Soffits and fascia boards were installed (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Just as the sun was sinking below the horizon, after most of the other teams in the park had gone home, the very last pieces of shed trim and skirting were finally being nailed into place.

The last pieces of trim were nailed into place as the sun set (Image Source: Kartik Bandhuvula; Used By Permission)

Here it is, in the dark.  Shed number two…DONE!

It was dark, but we finished! Go Team 2!

Unfortunately, it was quite dark by the time we were clearing up to leave, so we didn’t get a chance to see some of the other urban garden projects.  We did get to see some of the raised garden boxes in the urban garden that were near the large cedar shed.

The large shed is in this part of the garden with numerous raised garden boxes waiting to be planted (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Residents of the neighborhood bordering History Park will be participating in health education classes and planting vegetables in these garden beds next spring.

Numerous other projects were undertaken by all the volunteers on Saturday.  We hope to return to the park very soon to see some of History Park’s transformation for ourselves, but in the meantime, to get a sense of the scale of this volunteer effort on Saturday, see the entire Project Inspire Photo Gallery at the Pedersen Quist Photography website.

If you’ve never been to San Jose’s History Park, and honestly, before this community event, we had no idea the park even existed, you’re truly missing a South Bay gem.  The park is situated on 14 acres, located in San José’s Rock Springs community.  There’s plenty of parking, and lots of benches and picnic tables located within the park.  There are docent led tours of the historic buildings on the site, a cafe, and running trolleys restored by the California Trolley & Railroad Corporation that is also housed on site.  Best of all, admission is free.  If you go though, don’t forget to stop by and admire our shed, located near the Dashaway Stables.  Shameless plug, I admit it…but our team worked very hard in fading light, beyond the call of duty, to ensure the shed was completed!

2010 Project Inspire T-Shirt

We’re fortunate to have these events coordinated for us each holiday season. However, with the current state of the economy, many non-profit groups can barely make ends meet. If you’re stumped for that ‘perfect’ holiday gift, how about grabbing a few good friends, and seeing which local organizations in your area would be thrilled to have even just a few hours of your time this holiday season? Memories are worth so much more than wrapping paper.  It’s a great gift, you’ll feel good, your community will be better for it, and best of all…it’s a gift you don’t have to wrap!

Teamwork is the ability to work together
toward a common vision.
The ability to direct individual accomplishments
toward organizational objectives.
It is the fuel that allows common people
to attain uncommon results.
~ Andrew Carnegie