George Mohacsi is the President and CEO of Foresters, a life insurance provider committed to the well-being of families. Foresters and KaBOOM! began their partnership in 2006 when the organizations built four playgrounds across the U.S.
Since then, the partnership has grown tremendously - Foresters has committed more than $7 million to KaBOOM!, with nearly 100 playgrounds being built across the U.S. and Canada by 2013. Foresters has also become a KaBOOM! National Partner and a founding member of the KaBOOM! Leadership Circle—a group of organizations providing long-term guidance and support to KaBOOM!.
Mohacsi and KaBOOM! Founder and CEO Darell Hammond sat down to talk about Foresters commitment to KaBOOM! and why Foresters believes in creating opportunities for families to spend quality time together. Below is a snippet from the interview. The full version can be read here.
Darell: George, I’d like to start by letting you know that everyone at KaBOOM! is so pleased with our partnership, to say nothing of the many children and families our playgrounds will eventually serve. I’m curious to know what first motivated you and your team to support KaBOOM.
George: Thanks Darell—we are excited as well. Foresters is all about families. Everything we do – from our valuable member benefits, to our support for charitable partners like KaBOOM!, right down to the financial security provided by our insurance products – ties directly to our purpose of enhancing the well-being of families and communities.
An important element of well-being is family time. So, it’s important for us to create opportunities for families to spend time together, to play and to be active – which is exactly what we’re doing in our partnership with KaBOOM! Plus, we invite our members – Foresters customers – out to volunteer at the builds, allowing them to enjoy family time while making a difference.
Darell: I’ve been struck by the commitment of Foresters volunteers and their spirit and enthusiasm at playground builds—it’s absolutely contagious. As you know, KaBOOM! has worked hard to continually innovate our community-build process. I enjoyed mixing cement with you at our build in Toronto and would love to hear about your impressions on building a playground with us.
George: I have loved attending builds! The build site just comes alive with everyone shoveling mulch, building benches and putting together the playground. And with our fun, family activities, it’s great that kids can get involved too. This allows families to spend the day together.
I must also say that I am continuously amazed by how KaBOOM! is able to coordinate bringing hundreds of volunteers together to work in unison to build an amazing place to play in less than eight hours. It truly provides such as sense of accomplishment for me, as well for our volunteers.
The article “Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers,” and associated study published yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows what we at KaBOOM! have seen happening increasingly over the years: the risk of lawsuits and increased academic competitiveness is harming our children.
In our aggressively litigious culture, we have become so obsessed with controlling risk that children are missing out on opportunities to grow and learn. There is a difference between an injury and an accident. An injury happens when equipment is in disrepair. An accident is just a natural part of growing up. Instead of accepting that a few bumps, bruises and even stitches are an inevitable part of childhood – and can actually be a healthy learning experience – we have somehow come to believe that accidents of any kind should be avoided at all costs.
Play is also under attack in our nation's schools. Shrinking recess and increased homework leave little time for play. And increasingly, cities are building new schools without playgrounds. Despite countless studies proving that play is integral to children's learning and health, most kids aren't getting enough space and time to play during the school day.
The intentions are good. We all want our kids to be safe and to have all of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, common sense is victim to these pressures. The key now is to take the results of this and other studies and pivot the conversation away from blame and toward a solution.
We need to create play spaces for our kids that encourage risk-taking and autonomy, allow them to be in control, and give them the time and space they need to exercise their bodies and master certain skills. That is one reason why KaBOOM! has embraced the concept of the Imagination Playground™ which uses loose parts and encourages creativity.
But even the most engaging play spaces won’t help our kids if we don’t shift our societal values to recognize the importance of play in our children’s physical, emotional and cognitive health and development. Once that happens we will automatically start to allocate appropriate financial resources for play spaces and give our kids the time they need to be kids.
When I was a growing up I had plenty of opportunities to play, (and yes, I had plenty of accidents, some of which required stitches) as did most of my peers. It took a generation for play to take a back seat and it will likely take a generation or more to correct itself. We must continue to study the issue, but more importantly, be willing to act when the facts can no longer be denied.
As we look back on the KaBOOM! 15th birthday year, it is hard not to feel pride in all that we – the broader KaBOOM! community – have accomplished toward realizing our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.
Together we have built 2,072 playgrounds empowering communities across North America to come together for the greater good. We have taken all of our knowledge and made it available – for free – so people can self-organize and build playgrounds at a much faster pace than we can alone, while also building local skills, capacity and social capitol.
We have mapped 89,145 playgrounds in our effort to create a nationwide Map of Play, which will in turn illuminate Play Deserts, allowing us to use our resources even more strategically to serve those communities most in need. To that end, we created a mobile app, Playgrounds!, to make it easier for you to add to our Map of Play and find great places to play in your neighborhood.
We recognized 151 Playful City USA honorees across the country for their efforts to make their cities more playful. And, with your support, my book, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play, was #4 on the NY Times Bestseller list, enrolling more communities, mayors, teachers and parents in the movement to save play.
With so much to celebrate, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement. But we must not forget that KaBOOM! was founded out of a tragedy – the lost lives of Iyesha and Clendon, who suffocated to death while playing in an abandoned car because they didn’t have a safe place to play. That story, as reported in the Washington Post, inspired me to bring people together and do something: build a playground.
This year, we turned another tragedy into hope in Phil Campbell, Ala., whose town was nearly destroyed by the largest tornado in Alabama history. Twenty-six people were killed including two students and a teacher from Phil Campbell Elementary School. Along with homes and businesses, their only playground was shredded by winds reaching over 210 MPH. Residents from Phil Campbell are still struggling to put their lives back together, but on December 17th they got a new playground, thanks to support from Disney, and two Imagination Playground™ in a Box™ sets, thanks to the generosity of donors from across the country.
Our mission to help communities build playgrounds is also driven by the fact that outdoor play is critical to the health and well-being of our children, yet today's kids have fewer opportunities and less time to play than any previous generation.
As we look ahead to the next 15 years, we must recommit to and act on behalf of Iesha and Clendon and all of the children in our lives to ensure that they have a great place to play and that play is prioritized at home and in school. Whether that means organizing a playground build in your neighborhood, joining our online community on Facebook or donating to our broader efforts, make a resolution to help advance the cause of play.
Oh, and don’t forget to have some fun along the way!
Founder and CEO, KaBOOM!
"My son's school (ATCPS) in Sacramento, Calif., received one of your playgrounds earlier this year. For the last year and a half since the school opened, (was originally a high school), my son and his school-mates only had a few basketball hoops and a soccer field to play on. He would come home and be so upset because he missed the playground he had at his old school.
He kept telling us how when ATCPS would get the new playground, he'd be able to climb to the top and be the best at the monkey bars. Well, just the other day, he came home extremely excited because he was able to make it all the way across in the bars.
I think to him, it was the best day of his life so far. All I can say is THANK YOU! for bringing joy to my son and the rest of the school. I know they are a happier bunch!"
– Theresia Mayer, Sacramento, CA
Play it forward with a donation today to help more kids like Theresia’s son learn about the joy of making it all the way across the monkey bars!
"I am fighting to save recess at our elementary schools and was referred to KaBOOM! as our fight got started. I have found valuable research and a supportive community at KaBOOM!.
Our fight has progressed slowly but we haven’t given up, and when I feel the stress that comes from being outspoken in our community I find much renewed strength by visiting the online community at KaBOOM!."
– Sarah Brown, Houston, TX
Play it forward to keep motivating play advocates like Sarah across the country.
"I was already running a playgroup, but the KaBOOM! webinar, Get Outside: an All-Weather Guide to Outdoor Playgroups, made me take the initiative to set up an 'Outdoor Playgroup' within our existing playgroup. Usually we try to meet outside anyway, but during winter in New England, that's not always the first impulse- many people just want to stay inside- we also have a lot of southern people who have relocated to this area and they find it hard to get out with the kids.
So, I figured starting 'Outdoor Playgroup' in the winter was a good idea. We've had really great turnouts to most of the events, and now that it's getting warmer I'm hoping that attendance will increase as well. One member who came to our outing this week said they hadn't been to a playground since the fall."
– Courtney Gallagher, New England
Play it forward with a donation today to help us host more online trainings to inspire people like Courtney to brave the weather and play outside in all seasons.
"I got involved with KaBOOM! through an employee at our local YMCA. I feel that providing a safe place for the kids in the community is a great idea. I am a grandparent of 7 boys and all they do is video games or baseball.
By having a place where they can play, it will get them some much needed exercise. Becoming a volunteer is a rewarding experience because you know you helped build a safe place for families to their kids to play.
I also met many wonderful people who took their time out of their job or household chores to come and build a fun place. It was fun with music, laughter and a joy to see the kids playing on their new playground."
– Leopold Chapa, Baytown, TX
Play it forward with a donation today if you’ve ever had a great experience on a KaBOOM! Build Day like Leo.
"Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts. Most guys spend a few months, maybe even 6 months, working on a cap stone service project in their community. That’s great, but I wanted to do something more. I was born in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. My parents, Dwight & Jennifer, adopted me when I was just a year old. Thinking about my Eagle Scout project I read some of the journals my parents kept when they were in the process of adopting me and I was struck by the description of the playground at the hospital I was born in – it was just a small rusted swing with a rotten seat and a sand pit filled with mud. That just wasn’t right – and I was going to fix it.
It took two and half years of planning and over 700 hours of work, but on August 12th, my 16th birthday, I helped build a brand new playground at that hospital. There were so many challenges along the way, language and distance among, them that I was so glad to have found the KaBOOM! online playground project planner. The easy step-by-step process led me through what I would need to do to build this playground, and since I’d never done anything like that before they quickly became my go-to resource."
– Alex Griffith, Forest Hill, MD
Alex overcame all the hurdles associated with building a new playground across an ocean and in a different language, and succeeded in building an amazing new playground for hundreds of kids.
Play it forward with a donation today to support playground builders like Alex, and all the ones to come.
"In 2007, we were notified that our playground no longer met safety codes. It was made of wood that had been treated with arsenic. Even though it was the heart of our co-operative community (and the whole world to the kids) it had to be removed. We were broken hearted.
After a recession that left us close to bankruptcy, we could simply not afford to replace it. But I had to find a way to get the kids a playground. I heard about KaBOOM! and sent in an application. After several months had gone by, we got a call from the KaBOOM! staff to tell us we had been chosen. They had found a sponsor and were going to help us build a new playground. It was like winning the lottery!
When it rains, it pours, which is exactly what happened the day and night before our build day, leaving a thick sloppy field of mud, approximately 6" to a foot deep. I was panicked that we wouldn't be able to build, that volunteers would take one look at the mud and bolt - but I was wrong. People did leave, but only to go home to get boots and then come right back.
At the end of the day, the mud made the end result that much sweeter. The feeling we got from the accomplishment, the feeling the kids got from knowing they were involved, it was so much more - it was like a barn raising! After Build Day people were genuinely nicer to each other. Parents hung out on our new benches while their children played together. Since the kids were involved in building it, they take amazing care of the playground. What would we have done without KaBOOM!?"
– Jackie O’Hearn, Brampton, ON
Jackie helped lead her community to replace a playground and bring the heart of their housing co-operative back.
Play it forward with a donation today, so we can continue building hearts of communities.
"The old adage 'the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree' had, for the most part, held a negative connotation for me until the KaBOOM! playground build in Pascagoula in 2008. We didn’t have as many volunteers as the other playground builds I worked on, but there was something different about this project - the kids were pitching in just throwing themselves into any job they could find.
Three years before this community was left in total devastation, and now houses that were once uninhabitable were homes again. Many of the people I know, where I used to live in Pascagoula, were too busy mucking out their houses in the days that followed Katrina to worry about when help would arrive. Like community after community along the Gulf Coast they just did what had to be done. Eventually they parked their FEMA trailers next to what was left of their homes, dug in and got busy with rebuilding.
What I witnessed in those children the day of the playground build struck me because it mirrored the actions of their parents and community after the storm. At first I just thought the kids would just get in the way, but they were relentless in their determination to help and did not take long to find what they were good at and run with it. It was apparent that it was not just fun to them - this was really hard work but they were determined to complete the project on time. And like their parents and community after Katrina, they didn’t just sit there and wait for the cavalry to show up and do it for them."
– JJ Smith, Pascagoula, MS
For most towns a new playground is just that – a great new place to play. But for the people in the Gulf Coast it offered a chance to rebuild their communities.
Play it forward so we can keep helping communities recover.