A community that cares

WeLoveU, a worldwide foundation, held a cleanup at Tarken Playground last weekend to help make it safer for local kids.

Keeping it clean: On March 18, about 60 WeLoveU volunteers cleaned Tarken Playground, removing trash, weeds and roots from the park. WeLoveU is an international foundation determined to improve quality of life. There are more than 150,000 members across 50 countries. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS

Graffiti plagued the buildings, and overgrown branches and weeds blighted the ground. For Max Rothstein, it was disappointing to see what had become of Tarken Playground.

“This park used to be a pillar in the community,” he said.

With the help of WeLoveU, Rothstein hopes the park can reclaim that status.

On March 18, about 60 WeLoveU volunteers returned to the park to finish their cleanup. The volunteers removed upward of 20 bags of trash, weeds and roots the size of poles from the park, taking advantage of the sunny day.

“We’ve been out here for almost four hours,” Rothstein said as volunteers worked with trash grabbers and a machete.

WeLoveU is an international foundation determined to improve quality of life on a global scale. There are more than 150,000 members across 50 countries.

Members of this particular branch are from all across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and perform services across the state as well. This is the second time they had come to Tarken within a few months.

“We came in August and painted this whole building,” Rothstein said. The building had previously been covered with graffiti, which he said had been happening daily.

Rothstein recalled that kids from the surrounding community joined them as they painted the building.

“One thing that’s really amazing is that the kids took a stand,” he said. “They took ownership and it set an example for the whole community. Since we came, there’s been no graffiti on the wall.”

WeLoveU has been working with state Rep. Jared Solomon, asking him what parts of the area needed the most help.

But for Rothstein, his connection with the park was a personal one. The son of two Northeast Philadelphia natives, he recalled how his dad would visit the park daily in his youth to play basketball.

“People would gather and learn responsibility and dedication to sports,” he said. “We want to revitalize this park so children can have a safe haven to go to.”

The volunteers also cleaned up sections of Frankford Avenue about a month ago as part of the foundation’s worldwide initiative called Mother Street Cleanup. The goal was to clean up the circumference of the entire earth.

WeLoveU was founded by Zahng Gil-Jah in South Korea in 2001 as a way to look out for one’s neighbor. The foundation has orchestrated many initiatives, such as hosting more than 32,000 blood drives and the Clean World Movement.

“I was really moved by the organization’s main mission, which is to serve with the heart of a mother,” Rothstein said. “A mother’s love is unconditional and self-sacrificial, and they don’t want any recognition.”

They don’t just do cleanups. They also clean out driveways after bad snowfalls and visit senior centers to put on singing performances. (“We’re a multi-talented group,” he laughed.)

Rothstein recalled several WeLoveU branches traveling to West Virginia about a year ago to help during a major flood. About a thousand volunteers participated.

“Their entire homes were underwater,” he said. “If you can visualize this, we walked up to a home and the bridge that connected this guy’s home to the ground was collapsed. The guy is sitting in his home helpless on his couch with mud up to his waist. About 50 of us went in and helped him out and cleaned out his home.”

As for the snowfall forecast for this week, Rothstein said he was looking forward to waking up at 2 a.m. and cleaning out senior citizens’ driveways, as he has done before.

“We feel you get the most joy out of life when you do things for others, so I’m really happy to do it,” he said. ••

Visit WeLoveUUSA.org to learn more about the foundation.