Kids dig deep to donate to treehouse project

January 30, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

After hearing about the proposed Family Treehouse Project Sunday, Carrot Festival Junior Princess Carleigh Bingham, 5, decided to donate $100 of her winnings to the organizers.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of the donors to this weekend's fundraising for the Family Treehouse Project are children, said local community activist Rosie Nava-Bermudez.

Nava-Bermudez came down from the treehouse in El Centro resident Blake Miles' yard at 3 p.m. Monday after spending a chilly and sometimes damp 77 hours raising money for the Family Treehouse Project, described as an indoor place for parents and children to learn and play together.

A kindergartner at Finley Elementary School in Holtville, Carleigh won the junior princess crown Friday night. She is battling the flu, and although she wasn't up to speaking with a reporter Monday, her mother, Marcy Bingham of Holtville, explained how they talked about the treehouse project after a story about it was published in Sunday's Imperial Valley Press.


"She decided she wanted to give Rosie $100," Bingham said.

"She said ‘If I give her $100, will I still have some left?' I said yes. That's what she wants to do," Bingham said.

"Carleigh called me Sunday night. I just needed to see that hope in the Valley again. I was losing it for a while," Nava-Bermudez said.

Nava-Bermudez said many families came by Sunday afternoon during the Super Bowl to voice their support.

"Most of the donors were kids. I didn't anticipate that," she said.

Bingham said she can remember growing up in the Valley with little for kids to do, particularly in the summer.

"I can remember wanting to live in San Diego, where there's a beach and a Chuck E. Cheese's. I was really impressed with (the Family Treehouse Project). I thought it was a really good idea. I've never heard of it before," Bingham said.

Carleigh also would like to donate a portion of her winnings to talk show host Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network, Bingham said.

The Family Treehouse Project would include science and health laboratories with activities such as human torso puzzles, computers, a toddler play area and other venues for parent/child interaction. All services would be free to the public.

The computers would include touch screens for kids with disabilities and computers with special hardware for toddlers and babies, Nava-Bermudez said. Employees and the proposed activities would be paid through grant money, although everyone now involved with the project is a volunteer, Nava-Bermudez said.

She has contacted the California Endowment, the Health Care Foundation and the Lucille Packard Foundation for funding and plans to continue her efforts to raise the money needed to bring the project to fruition. Organizers hope to have the project complete by the end of this year, contingent upon funding.

County Health Department staffer Cindy Salazar-Bass, one of five local board members for the Family Treehouse Project and a mother of two, said she believes the project can be realized, especially after talking to other parents who wish there were more things for children to do in the Valley.

She explained the science fair at the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta is so successful every year because children really enjoy the activities provided. Similar activities would be provided at the Family Treehouse Project, she said, including resources for parents to help their children with their homework.

"We're trying to build that unity of family back into people's lives," Salazar-Bass explained.

Nava-Bermudez said the five board members of the Family Treehouse Project are the real strength behind the effort, while Salazar-Bass credited several volunteers who have faithfully attended kids' night every Tuesday at Golden Corral restaurant in El Centro. Management at Golden Corral has allowed project organizers to host activities for children every Tuesday since October since no building yet exists for the project.

Organizers would like to renovate an existing structure in the El Centro area to house the project and eventually have one in every city in the Valley.

The cost of the proposed project is about $50,000, Nava-Bermudez has said. About $2,500 was raised this weekend and most of that came from children who stopped by the treehouse, she said. Alford Distributing Executive Vice President Cherie Alford was in the treehouse Friday and raised part of the money for the project.

"I certainly feel anything that can provide our children with wholesome, healthy, educational activities is most needed in our community and that's why I'm putting my support behind it," Alford said.

About one-quarter of the donations this weekend came from adults, Nava-Bermudez explained.

There is one local father who services bubble gum machines throughout the Valley, she said. His children brought their combined allowance to the treehouse Sunday. Other donors included a 19-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl, both visiting from Moreno Valley, who stood beneath the tree house chanting "girl power!" as they sent up their last $8 to Nava-Bermudez for the project.

Nava-Bermudez, at times accompanied by her husband and daughter, stayed in the treehouse and ferried things to and from ground level via a green lunchbox tied to a string. Nava-Bermudez didn't even come down for bathroom breaks.

"It was very humbling. You should try it sometime," she said.


On the Web:

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles