We often spend too much energy condemning our enemies and not enough time appreciating our friends. As Thanksgiving approaches and families gather to appreciate their loved ones, I’d like to recognize the contributions of those who have gone above and beyond to further the cause of play.
Of particular note are the six Park-A-Day Summer Challengers who committed to visiting a new local park every day with their children this past summer. Bethany Ingraham, Liza Sulllivan, Marily Smith, Shelley Schumaker Callico, Sherry Frick, and Tracey Quinn inspired parents across the country to incorporate more play into their children’s summers by sharing their experiences online. Marily personally received a certificate of completion from Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Ariz. (a Playful City USA community); Tracey was featured in the St. Petersburg Times; and Liza published a letter in the Chicago Tribune about the importance of play.
This year alone, over 42,000 volunteers hauled mulch, mixed concrete, and assembled playground components, dedicating their sweat equity to build great playspaces in communities that otherwise couldn’t afford them. I particularly admire those who have continued to make play a priority in their communities. Imanni Wilkes is one shining example, who organized and led the first Volunteer Alumni Meet-Up in the Philadelphia area and brought many people together to talk about the importance of play in children's lives.
After Principal Wanda Quon partnered with KaBOOM! to build a playground at Pecan Park Elementary, she went on to expand it into a comprehensive Wellness Area, which includes a quarter-mile walking track and cardiovascular stations. She also won a grant to provide free fruits and vegetables to students throughout the school day. Her extraordinary efforts caught the eye of First Lady Michelle Obama, who toured the school in March as she worked to spread the word about her “Let’s Move” campaign.
Then there are those who have taken the initiative to build their own playgrounds in areas of need using the DIY playground planning tools on kaboom.org. In partnership with the local community, Angela Wendel and Nicole Allfrey built a playground at the Good Hope Orphanage and School in Ngusero Sombetini, a rural Tanzanian village. The community had no public parks or playgrounds. In addition to a swing set and jungle gym, the project included an electricity producing merry-go-round, built with local materials, which provides a means for the children to work on homework after hours.
In Port Williams, Nova Scotia, Lia Glover was loading her children into the van to drive to another town to play when it hit her: “We should have our own playground!” She invited interested residents to her house to talk about creating a playspace for all community members to enjoy. During one of their first fundraisers, more than 100 people packed the local pub to raise $20,000 in a matter of hours. Community members worked side by side to build the playground, and now the whole town has a centrally located outdoor gathering space for all to enjoy.
It’s not just individuals who are taking initiative. This year, KaBOOM! honored 118 Playful City USA communities who are committed to taking action for play. Communities that were honored last year have been busy fulfilling their commitment through innovative, cost-effective programs. Here’s just a sampling:
- Mary Hanisco and Pat Rumbaugh, residents of Playful City USA Tacoma Park, Md. founded the Traveling Playgroups with a $500 grant. They and other volunteers travel to parks all over Takoma Park, bringing games and play with them, while collecting citizen feedback on improvement needs.
- Casa Grande, Ariz. offered Positive Lunch Activities for Youth (P.L.A.Y.) program benefiting 6th-8th grade students who no longer have access to play equipment.
- Dothan, Ala. began using a community build process for all playground construction, which builds community cohesion and spirit, but also saves 20-25% on overall cost.
- Through joint-use agreements with the local school district, Orlando, Fla. increased the quantity of playspaces available to the general public.
It warms my heart to see government officials at both local and federal levels making play a priority. Fifteen years ago, we marked Make A Difference Day (held annually on October 23rd) with our very first community built playground; this year, as we commenced our 1894th build, we were joined by the Honorable Arne Duncan, Shaun Donovan, Ray LaHood, and Tom Vilsack, as well as the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Patrick Corvington.
The private sector is also stepping up to the plate, even during trying economic times. Increasingly, major for-profit companies are recognizing the importance of corporate social responsibility, using their influence, revenue, and employee manpower to rally around social causes. I would like to give special thanks to our National Partners, Kraft Foods Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, who are not only stepping up to provide playgrounds to communities in need, but who are also supporting our efforts to drive mass offline action through our innovative online tools.
Among the many companies and foundations who have committed resources to the cause of play, I am also particularly grateful for the support of Foresters, The Home Depot Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Amgen, UnitedHealthcare, Kool-Aid, and Disney, as well as philanthropic support from the Knight Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Omidyar Network. We could not do what we do without them.
Back in the summer of 1995, shortly after moving to Washington, D.C., I read a story in the Washington Post about two local children who suffocated while playing in an abandoned car because they didn’t have anywhere else to play. That story planted the seed from which KaBOOM! sprouted. As we approach our 15th anniversary, we also approach our 2,000th playground build, while continuing to facilitate the construction of thousands of other community-built playgrounds through our online tools.
Our mission is turning into a movement. When it started, KaBOOM! was two people toiling at the back table of a local deli. Now the fight to save play is a national network of parents, teachers, neighborhoods, schools, nonprofits, government departments, and corporations. I could go on and on – we at KaBOOM! have so much to be thankful for! Your unflagging spirit and support continue to humble us. We remain committed to our vision of a place of play within walking distance of every child, and we could never achieve it without you.