Oakland Block Transformed

Zero in on one talented team of volunteers in Oakland as it takes a ‘day on’ for KP’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

By Lynn Mundell

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This caterpillar mural took KP volunteers, including Lamar James, all day to paint. “I wish I could be here to see the children’s reactions,” she says.

The first thing a visitor sees when approaching Allendale Elementary School in Oakland is a bright blue playground wall with a colorful crawling caterpillar mural.

Just a few hours earlier, that wall was blank.

The wide expanse of blacktop now sports newly painted blocks for games such as hopscotch and basketball.

The long white fence surrounding the nearby Allendale Recreation Center is in the midst of being painted a fresh burgundy color.

Inside the school, its motto—“CARES,” which stands for Cooperation, Assertiveness, Responsibility, Empathy, Self-Control—is now stenciled along the walls, while deep inside, dust motes swirl out the door and windows of the library as it gets a good cleaning.

One of 17 sites powered by Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians using their vacation time to volunteer on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the Allendale site is exceptional for a few reasons.

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Inside the school, children’s drawings celebrate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The volunteer efforts are focused on the entire city block that includes the large elementary school, which currently enrolls 420 students, as well as a community center with a play area and gardens.

Second, KP has a relationship with the school: It has had the Warriors basketball team visit the school to talk about healthy eating and active living.

“This school’s motto represents many of our values,” explains Curshanda Cusseaux Woods, Community Relations manager. “Our commitment is extending here today so it is more than a one-touch moment.”

Finally, there are the volunteers—ranging from 10-year-old students to a KP retiree.

Meet the Volunteers

Nine-year-old Godswill Young was dropped off at the school in the morning by his mom so he could help out. By 2 p.m. his KP volunteer T-shirt is showing the signs of his busy day with a patch of paint here and a bit of clay there—but his wide smile and big brown eyes sparkle.

“I took out weeds and painted,” he says proudly. “Then I ate lunch and played.”

“I learned a lot of new things today,” adds his friend, Mario Montelongo, 10.

The boys and their friends are sorely tempted to toss around the new playground sand, which is soft and fresh thanks to the large team of volunteers that includes teachers, community members, kids, and their parents.

The boys’ school principal, Steven Thomasberger, is across the playground, stenciling in the hallway. He is surprised to learn that the KP volunteers each used their vacation time to help his school.

“I’m most excited just to see this group of people who would come together on this day,” he says. “It’s impressive.”

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KP’s Donna Means-Taplin attended the school as a child and is a resident of Oakland—making her day of service especially rich and rewarding.

Outside on the blacktop is Donna Means-Taplin, an employee in Procurement & Supply who attended Allendale as a child and is thrilled to return to spruce up her old school.

“It all seems so small now,” she laughs. “It seemed really big when I was in school.”

Means-Taplin has sorted supplies for recycling, a passion of hers, and accomplished some serious hedge-trimming.

“I’m a cosmetologist, too, so I had to make sure it was trimmed up nice and fine!”

(In fact, Means-Taplin was one of the last to leave and even took the leftover food to feed homeless people.)

Seated in the hot sun nearby is recent KP retiree Lamar James, who worked for the organization for 33 years and is today painting in the letters that make up the pre-kindergarten yard’s caterpillar mural.

“It’s so fulfilling,” James says. “Volunteering is the best thing you can ever do. It makes you appreciate that you have the life you have.”

“Once in a while we’ll have a single representative from a business or organization walk through for a day,” said Principal Thomasberger. “But no one else has ever done something like this for the school.”