Wanda Cheeks wants to give children the promise of happy memories at the park—memories she never had. When she was 12, she was kidnapped, assaulted and abandoned near Irwin Park in Spartanburg, S.C. She went on to become a teen mom, burdened with adult responsibilities before fully becoming an adult.
Despite—or maybe in part because of—her troubled childhood, she has dedicated her life to making sure that thousands of children in Spartanburg have a safe place to play. Says Wanda, “I believe that playing is the most important action that a child can do.”
In 2003, she founded Southside Unity in the Community (SSUITC), a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism while providing opportunities for at-risk children. Her first mission was to build a new playground. Though she had once vowed never to return to Irwin Park, with guidance from KaBOOM! and funding from The Home Depot Foundation, Wanda ended up leading hundreds of volunteers in the construction of a new playground there.
Wanda says, “Nobody thought they had the power to be a part of change like that. They thought it was always the city job, the school job, the job of the property manager… They realize they have a voice. I see a lot more people getting involved, taking the roles, stepping up. I’m very proud of those people in my community and I love to see them grow.”
And that was just the beginning. Wanda went on to plan another community-wide playground build at Spartanburg Charter School and helped lead substantial renovations to Priscilla Rumley Park. She also campaigned for Spartanburg to achieve Playful City USA status, and because of her tireless efforts, the city has been named a Playful City USA community for six consecutive years.
“I eat, sleep, and drink playgrounds,” Wanda says. “I never thought blisters could make my heart feel so good!”
Wanda has helped bring play to other southern cities, building seven other playgrounds with KaBOOM! in Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans, Orlando, and Washington, DC. She is now back in Spartanburg utilizing our DIY tools on Our Dream Playground to help plan the construction of St. Paul Community Park, which will be accessible to children of all ages and abilities, provide recreation for the elderly, and host community and family events.
Through her tireless efforts, Wanda has become a role model in her community, even winning the 2012 Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change. Community leader Susu Johnson says, “Wanda is a force. One of the things I admire about her is that she doesn’t give up. She has had insurmountable odds that she has surmounted.”
It’s not a life course that Wanda expected, but she has learned to embrace it. “Being a menace as a child and thinking that you have no future or mean anything to anybody,” she says, “and then just seeing the whole world at [my] feet saying what do you want to do Wanda? [That’s when] I saw that I was a leader.”
Photo and video provided by The Spartanburg County Foundation.
What does a stay-at-home mom do when her three boys are home for the summer? That’s the question that Florida mom Tracey Quinn was grappling with back in the summer of 2009, when she found herself facing “83 days of figuring out something for them to do besides watching TV and playing video games.”
On the first day, I decided to take the boys to the nearest neighborhood park. That would at least get us out of the house. While they were enjoying the playground, it occurred to me that I should challenge myself, and my kids, to get out each day and… document our excursions.
On the second day:
We packed a cooler and headed to the next-nearest city park, which we had never visited before. My kids were having so much fun, I practically had to beg them to leave. I decided to up the ante on the previous day’s challenge: Could we not only get out of the house, but visit a new park each day? Surely we could find 81 more parks within driving distance from our house.
Tracey, who lives in the Playful City USA community of Safety Harbor, was able to find 59 playspaces within a 25-mile radius. She says, “OK, so we took a few breaks… But ‘The Great Park Pursuit’ certainly got us out of the house, and the kids looked forward to a new challenge each day.”
The so-called Great Park Pursuit didn’t stop there. When Tracey shared her summer adventures with KaBOOM!, we liked the idea so much that we decided to challenge parents across the country to do the same. For three years now, the KaBOOM! Summer Playground Challenge has asked families to get outside with their kids and while they’re at it, to document the playgrounds they visit on our crowd-sourced Map of Play.
Tracey and her boys have now spent four consecutive summers exploring playgrounds. In the process, they have visited and mapped every publicly accessible playground in Safety Harbor and traveled all over Pinellas County to find new places to play. Our all-time champion mapper, Tracey has added 132 playgrounds to our Map of Play and a staggering 1,399 photos!
Because of Tracey’s tireless efforts, KaBOOM! can now map Play Deserts in Pinellas County – that is, areas that are child-rich but playground-poor. Her data is vital to helping us figure out where more playgrounds need to be built.
Meanwhile, Tracey’s boys have reaped the physical, social, and cognitive benefits of summers full of rigorous outdoor play. But they are growing up fast. Tracey says:
What I've learned… is that kids don't stay young very long and to appreciate every day with them. Although most playgrounds are "recommended" for up to 12 years old… my oldest [son’s] feet touch the ground while holding most monkey bars. As he continues to "grow up" both physically and emotionally, I know that spending summers together at playgrounds will eventually come to an end.
Maybe, Tracey muses, she can map basketball courts next?
In 2011, Tracey and her boys revisited one of the first playgrounds they went to and re-posed for a photo, showing how much they had grown in just two years.
In seven years of partnership, JetBlue and KaBOOM! have brought together over 3,600 volunteers to move 15 tractor trailers full of mulch and build 15 playgrounds which will serve more than 10,128 children.
In February, JetBlue customers were asked to vote for the location of the 15th JetBlue-KaBOOM! playground by voting on Facebook. In August, we worked together to build a playground in the winning city of Oakland with JetBlue TrueBlue members as volunteers. Coming up on October 9, JetBlue will hold its 4th Annual Swing for Good Golf Classic with KaBOOM! as one of the benefiting nonprofit partners.
We are looking forward to completing three more playground builds with our National Partner, JetBlue, before the end of 2013!
We've got all the facts and figures about why play matters, but perhaps what matters most is that play brings our kids joy.
That's why we're hosting our Joy of Play photo contest this fall. Submit your best shot of your joyful child at play and you could win a $500 holiday shopping spree!
We want to see those smiles, but we also want to know why your family values play. How does play help your child learn, grow and flourish? How has play helped them discover new things, develop new skills, or make new friends?
It's time to spread the joy!
We say, "It starts with a playground," and Eureka, Calif. resident Ruth Robertson (pictured at right) is here to attest that a playground is indeed only the beginning. Ruth first got involved with KaBOOM! in 2008 when she found out that we were helping to build a playground in the park across her street. Here, in Ruth's words, is what happened next:
“When our councilmember got with KaBOOM!, he invited the community out to a meeting about it. I attended with my son, and that’s the first time in my life when I was actually included in something in my community.
I came out to the Design Day, joined the planning committee. I was like, 'What do you need?' I was there. On Build Day, I was the concrete team Build Captain—I volunteered for that because no one else would. That build changed my life—I got involved in my community.
I went on to volunteering... political campaigning in some of the roughest areas of Eureka. I knocked on doors in these really rough parts of town, but I saw all aspects of life, I saw poverty, I saw single parents not having a place to go to play... for them to then come to Hammond Park—the second most used park in Eureka—that’s like 15 blocks away, but they walk it!
Two years later I organized Spruce Up Hammond Park Day—man, the city resisted and resisted and then I finally we just did it, had a 100 volunteers show up, and we re-painted, planted trees, it was great... just great! To see people walk by, stop and volunteer. Other play opportunities often charge for recreation but this place was free and for all of us.
When you see kids coming from broken homes, they don’t have a choice… they can’t be instrumental in change but when you see that people care enough to say, ‘We wanna make a difference,’ when you give them a safe place to play, it speaks volumes. It tells them you can do whatever you want.”
Volunteers are hard at work on 'Spruce Up Hammond Park Day.'
Our headquarters in DC has moved to bigger, brighter playground!
You may not believe it from the pictures, but we actually work really hard around here. Because of course, work is most productive when it incorporates lots of play.
This exclusive photo tour of our new space is sure to make you jealous:
Photos by talented Boomers Frank Zhu and Lindsay Adeyiga.
KaBOOM! was honored to join First Lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and local elected officials from across the country in Philadelphia to announce public and private sector commitments to support the goals of Let’s Move!, the First Lady’s initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.
In addition to committing to provide free materials, technical assistance and guidance for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties elected officials to build or expand public playgrounds, the First Lady cut the ribbon of a new Imagination Playground™ in a Box at the event. The set was donated to the Lenfest Center by Let’s Play and KaBOOM!.
"Many of the nation’s children don’t live within walking distance of a park or recreation center,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Today, KaBOOM! is giving Philadelphia a head start on solving that problem by donating a playground. But it’s not just any playground. It’s the Imagination Playground™ in a Box that you can see just over here to my right. The moveable parts come in a box, and kids can assemble them in any setting – indoors or outdoors – to create a safe place to play. These playspaces make an immediate impact in a neighborhood."
“I want to echo the thank-you’s for our outstanding partners in this new coalition,” said Obama. “And of course, KaBOOM for supporting new playgrounds -- like the one that we're going to unveil here today -- where kids can get around and get the exercise they need to stay healthy.”
Just prior to the event a new website was launched to help elected officials meet their goals of empowering kids to eat healthy and stay active, which includes detailed information on the importance of mapping playspaces and the tools to do it, including through the KaBOOM! Playful City USA program.
The goal of Let’s Move and the vision of KaBOOM! (a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America) intersect on the playground as children who live within a half mile of a playground are five times more likely to be physically fit and engage in active, healthy play.
Photos via Seth Nenstiel (cc).
Just after sunrise on June 23rd, on a vacant lot in the south side of Chicago, 250 corporate and community volunteers gathered to help us raise slides and bolt in climbers on the 100th KaBOOM! Playground in the City!
The project – sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois -- celebrated this amazing milestone project and the momentum that is building behind the goal of creating great places to play within walking distance of every kid in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel has just unveiled a plan to pump $290 million into more than 800 parks and recreation facilities during the next five years. Chicago Public Schools made a groundbreaking decision to add 20 minutes to the school day to bring back recess for all children this Fall. And – importantly -- there is an unprecedented level of citizen action and corporate investment growing behind the movement sparked by KaBOOM! to make Chicago a playful city.
More than 30 companies have fueled our work to date in Chicago, notably Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Kraft Foods Foundation, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Discover Financial Services, CNA Foundation, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Reedy Industries, Radio Flyer, Magnetar Capital, Chicago White Sox Charities, William Blair & Company, Motorola Solutions and others.
Check out our Chicago 100! Facebook album, where we reminisce about some of our most memorable Chicago builds.
20,000 volunteers from every neighborhood in our city have pitched in to help us build our first 100 playgrounds!
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois President Karen Atwood and energetic Blue Corps volunteers helped us lead the project.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois was “lit up” about the project, spotlighting it over Millenium Park and Lake Shore Drive!
“There’s nothing better than running around on a playground and in the grass and having a good time. The value of a playground in your community is immeasurable.”
So says a volunteer at a recent playground build made possible by KaBOOM! National Partner Foresters. It’s hard to argue against the value of a playground. “Speaking from experience,” says another volunteer, “I grew up where there wasn’t one… I’m happy that I can help a kid say, 'I was able to play at a playground.'”
In 2012, Foresters will build 20 playgrounds and support 26 DIY playground improvement projects, providing children and their families with a safe place to spend quality time together and have fun. Three builds in Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles (pictured) have already been completed.
In addition to building playgrounds with KaBOOM!, Foresters is a member of the Leadership Circle within the KaBOOM! National Partner Program. This means Foresters provides long-term guidance and support for KaBOOM! by investing in programs that have a lasting impact on the well-being of families.
See more on the impact of a Foresters Playground Build:
Learn about how you can impact your community with Foresters at MyForesters.com.
We know KaBOOM! helps communities build playgrounds in a matter of weeks, but a new study proves what we have seen anecdotally from more than 2,100 playground builds since our founding in 1996: that our impact goes beyond a healthy playspace for kids.
A report by Knight Foundation finds that KaBOOM! projects help volunteers and local organizations cultivate the skills, confidence and inspiration they need to get more involved in their communities. KaBOOM!: Playgrounds that Build Communities provides lessons for groups seeking to engage volunteers in community change efforts. Key to the success is our approach. KaBOOM! offers a highly structured playbook that yields a quick, achievable win motivating people to become more engaged in improving neighborhoods.
This great infographic from Knight Foundation illustrates how our playgrounds spark community change: