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Phoenix Forward

Student turns class project into a community playground for underprivileged kids

Norma Ortiz

Norma Ortiz takes her college courses at University of Phoenix seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she turned a class grant-writing assignment into a real-life project at the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), where she works full time.

The wheels started turning in the spring of 2011, when Ortiz signed up for the grant-writing class as part of her Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree program.

Ortiz, who was raised by a single mom in South Central Los Angeles, is now the site supervisor for Santa Ana, Calif.-based MAOF, the nation’s largest Latino-serving social organization that helps children and families in need. The nonprofit, community-based organization currently serves more than 100,000 primarily low- to moderate-income level people in California with child care and development, preschool services and other programs.

Ortiz says MAOF needed a playground for the 144 children — ages 3 to 5 — in its program, as well as for the community. She worked with team members in her grant-writing class to draft a 250-page document that proved the desperate need for such a playground in the neighborhood. Children in her area had nowhere else to play, she says, noting that gang members frequented the local park, leaving it rife with graffiti.

After an arduous process, which included drafting the lengthy grant application and conducting interviews, the Tarsadia Foundation and KaBOOM Inc. helped fund a project to create a new playground. KaBOOM provided architects to help design the site, and Ortiz helped gather hundreds of people to build the playground on Sept. 10, 2011.

Grant makes dreams come true

“We had to guarantee we had 400 volunteers,” she says, noting that the president and vice president of her company, along with countless volunteers from the community, came out to help build the playground in six hours.

The playground now includes, among other amenities, two basketball courts, a play structure, hopscotch, hand-painted murals on the walls and a huge community garden. The playground was such a success that enrollment for the preschool attached to the center increased immediately. “In four days,” Ortiz says, “we filled our enrollment for the next fiscal year, because of the playground.”

Grant makes dreams come true

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