May 18, 2016
A barren, concrete lot at a Northeast Philadelphia school was transformed Wednesday into a cheery play area with new playground equipment and a 50-by-75-foot turf field surrounded by colorful murals of student artwork.
Taking to the turf to throw a football around with students at Disston Elementary School in Mayfair was Howie Roseman, executive vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles, and the team's tight end Zach Ertz. Nearby, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie worked on a mural.
The Eagles, including new head coach Doug Pederson and other staff, joined students, volunteers and educators at Disston for the team's 20th playground build, an annual tradition.
Disston, located on the 6800 block of Cottage Street, was selected for the build after a review process involving 10 applicants, according to Carly Pennacchia, community relations coordinator for the Eagles.
The team partners every year with the city's Mural Arts Program to build the playgrounds and paint murals.
This year was no different.
Starting with the theme of the Disston Dragons, the mascot of the elementary school, and being "respectful, responsible and reliable leaders," Pennacchia said that the Mural Arts Program helped create a design that incorporated student artwork into a huge mural to cover much of the school building.
"The Eagles are about community and we just want to show that," said Pennacchia.
During the day, students, volunteers, teachers – and a few friendly police officers – asked players for photos and autographs as they worked on the school improvement project.
Disston principal Kari Hill said artwork created by 59 students – working on the theme of "what I want to be when I grow up" – is incorporated into the mural. She said she was excited to see it upon completion.
"We really had no other items in our school yard, until today," Hill said. "This is a collaborative project that has brought the school and community together."
Lurie was putting paint brush to wall on Wednesday, taking only momentary breaks to sign autographs and talk about the importance of the community partnership.
He said that it's important for the football team to give back to the community, especially to a city school that needs attention, like Disston. Helping the community, Lurie said, is, something of a big win for his team.
"We feel like we want to win the Super Bowl every year off the field," he said. "And Philadelphia is such a great place to be able to do that."
Connor Barwin, defensive end for the Eagles, who also attended a recent rally in support of Mayor Jim Kenney's proposed sugary drinks tax, said that by working in the community, players get a better perspective on the city they play for and more interaction with some of their biggest fans.
"It's good to get out and connect with the community you play for," he said. "Why wouldn't you want to be out here? This is fun."
Also on hand to help paint murals was Pederson, who was proud to say that Wednesday wasn't his first time helping out at an Eagles playground build.
He also participated in 1999 and 2000 as a player and four times, from 2009 to 2012 as a member of the Eagles staff.
"This allows students to see the team outside of our walls," said Pederson. "This is how you build that community spirit."