Woodinville, Washington — In Woodinville, a group of neighbors and city employees assemble in a grassy, tree-lined area near a cul-de-sac to hear the mayor speak. But this isn’t just a politician giving a speech under a tree.
“On behalf of the city, we appreciate what this neighborhood has done to beautify our city and to create what we call a neighborhood park,” says Woodinville Mayor Elaine Cook.
And this plot of grass is not just a park. It’s where something beautiful took root, when little Joey Kantak, who was speech delayed, spoke his first words at age five.
All because of an other-worldly friend he found in a tree.
“I just couldn’t imagine anything better for him,” says Joey’s dad, James.
And that inspired a community to create the newest pocket park in the wedge area of Woodinville: Yoda Grove.
“It’s pretty phenomenal with the amount of community that’s come together to have this,” says James, pointing out photos of the group’s work.
The park used to be overgrown with blackberry bushes and filled with trash.
“It was a staging ground for criminal activity,” says Yoda Grove volunteer Kevin Murphy.
Residents asked the city for permission to improve the vacant lot. And, using their own time and money, they cleared the area by hand and planted grass. Along the way, someone put a Yoda doll in a tree.
“Some neighbors had put a Yoda up on a log down the way. So it would be ‘let’s go meet at Yoda, go stop at Yoda,’” says Joey’s mom, Jennica Kantak.
And then, in one moment, the child who had never spoken, uttered his first word. “Yoda.”
“It’s very emotional to hear a word as a mom when you are desperate to talk to your child and something so simple as ‘Yoda’,” says Jennica.
However, someone complained about the improvements to the city. After an investigation, the city initially deemed the park too close to a wetland. So most of the grass, except one small six foot strip, had to go.
“Unfortunately the issue is mostly with the grass: one, it’s not a native species to the area and two, it’s not a great habitat for a wetland,” says City of Woodinville spokesman Kevin O’Neill.
But just last week, the city changed course, saying it has re-designated the wetland. New plans are being drawn.
And Mayor Elaine Cook, meanwhile, is here for a special presentation.
“And I’d like to offer this special golden key to the city to little joey,” says Mayor Cook. ""I wanted to tell you that you’re very special."
And Joey: “A real key, a real key to the city!”
Joey might not know what this all means. But the neighbors here know exactly what Joey represents.
“Everybody knows him, they love him, they all wave. So this is kind of a magical moment for him,” says Joey’s dad, James.
Actually, it is for all of us.