A large group of Hancock College students and staff spent Friday caked in paint and covered in dirt as they renovated Jack O'Connell Park in Guadalupe, the capstone service project for a three-day leadership training program.

"When we talk about leadership in classrooms and on our campus, the best thing we can do is back that up by modeling it in the community," said Tom Lamica, head of the college's Career Center. "Our classroom has become this park — this is really where students do their learning."

Dubbed "Hancock Cares," the service project capped off a three-day training and development program for the college's student services staff. Lamica, who helped organize the event, said the idea for the beautification project came up during conversations with participants and city officials. Program participants, he added, "wanted to collaborate with them and do something special."

"We're appreciative of Hancock's coming forward in helping us do this," Guadalupe's interim City Manager Bob Perrault said. 

Joined by city employees and council members, the roughly 60-person crew renovated the park's picnic and playground areas, tended to nearby landscaping and improved the softball field to make it playable once again. Horseshoe pits received new wooden backstops and sand. A large statue of an Orca whale near the parking lot was spruced up with several fresh coats of paint. 

"This is the first time we've had a group of this size that's been able to come out and get so much done in a short period of time," Perrault said. 

At 15 acres, Jack O'Connell Park is the largest in the city. Upkeep and maintenance to fixtures and facilities were backlogged during the Great Recession, according to Perrault, and stayed that way as the city grappled with multiple years of budget deficits. But now, with the city's finances on the mend, officials have committed to providing additional funding for parks and recreation. Friday's renovation was the first step in that direction.

Inri Serrano, a Hancock graduate and former student trustee, recalled his excitement at learning the group had selected Jack O'Connell Park as the site of their service project. The Guadalupe native lives a few minutes from the park and usually sees children in the playground or members of the Guadalupe Bulldogs youth football team practicing on the large field.

"Giving to my community was always my priority," Serrano said. "I just knew I had to get a few people out here to help out. I know this will definitely help the kids."

According to Lamica, renovation of Jack O'Connell Park is just the first phase of a series of renovation and beautification projects planned for the city. Volunteers are hoping to complete additional beautification work at City Hall and other locations around the community. He hopes summer service projects similar to Friday's could become routine events for the college.

"It's not just about classrooms and getting kids to come to our campus, it's about Hancock College extending out into the community and having an impact," Lamica said.

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Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga



Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.