In July 2012, we partnered with Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the Westside Community Improvement Association in Eureka, Calif. to build a playground at a site that was formerly an abandoned schoolyard. Not only are children of all ages flocking to the new playground, but neighbors are getting to know each other, crime is decreasing, and families are biking more and eating better. Here, Eureka resident Heidi Benzonelli (pictured right) tells us how the playground changed everything:
We had a dream—to turn an abandoned public school site into a playground, a park, and a community center. Piece by piece, our dream is becoming reality.
The Jefferson Elementary School closed in 2005 and its facilities went into a state of blight. When it closed, officials took away the playground equipment, installed a chainlink fence around the schoolyard, and put up “No Trespassing” signs. But that didn’t stop kids from playing there. They used to crawl through the fence or pry the gates open to get in. There was no playground, but they were running around the schoolyard and playing with a huge truck tire.
The neighborhood rallied together and we were able to raise enough money and secure financing to obtain ownership of the property. The first thing we did was to open the gates, and the kids and all their brothers and sisters came pouring in. Then we started reaching out for grants and partnerships everywhere. We always knew what we wanted; what we didn’t realize is that if we just got started, the energy would build on itself. One day, kids were pushing a tire around the schoolyard and the next day, PG&E and KaBOOM! came forward with a grant for a new playground.
I can’t tell you what a difference the playground has made. It has been a magnet for everyone to come and bring their kids. Kids now know their neighbors—we’ve restored the community commons. Because they’re there, people rake the wood chips and pick up trash. The playground gives them an opportunity to be of service and give what they can give.
Before, we were having some problems with rival tagging and some of our younger teenagers getting involved in gang activity. A big problem was lack of options. They’d ask themselves, “What are we going to do today?” and then take the path of least resistance of what was available to them. Kids now have a beautiful playground, and what’s available is a place to come and play and be kids. We have no more graffiti, and we’re not seeing the younger kids involved in gang activity. The other thing that’s happened is the parents are stepping up and taking ownership. They’re saying, “This is OUR playground, this is a family thing going on here.” The people who were using the site because it was abandoned are gone – just through self-governance, not signs or rules or threats.
The playground has had an impact on kids of all ages. One of our volunteers has a little boy who’s about two, and before the playground there was no place for her to let him loose. He was always in the stroller. Now he comes to the playground every day—he climbs the climbing wall and goes all the way up to the top of the play structure.
Eureka's new playground has inspired community members to come forward and share their gifts, like teaching youth cooking classes. Photos courtesy of The Jefferson Project.
Some of our volunteers, including me, had never been involved in a big community project before. Once you get a taste of it, you want more. Now we’re working on transforming the North building of the school into a community event center and renovating three classrooms for all-age recreation, everything from infant toddlers to teens to older people. We are renovating the kitchen into a fully permitted commercial kitchen so we can provide healthy nutritious food at all of our events. Kids are getting addicted to fruits and vegetables! An organization called Bicycle Kitchen is teaching kids how to fix bikes, so we’re promoting the health and physical fitness of our community, as well as offsetting greenhouse gases.
Because we now have a volunteer base, when someone comes forward and wants to do something, BOOM! we’re doing it. A lady called recently and said, “Hey, my mom told me what’s going on down there and I’m a dietician. I’m here for a week and I’d like to teach a class.” We were able to email and call a few parents I met from the KaBOOM! build, and about nine kids showed up. Then a guy said he wanted to do a community drum circle, so we gave him the keys. We’re providing an opportunity for people to share their gifts.
We’ve done it. The gates are open. The kids are playing. The community has come together and is hungry to be of service. We’re succeeding. Thank you KaBOOM!.
The days, weeks and months of recovery following a hurricane can take a severe toll on a community, particularly on the children who live there.
As part of JetBlue’s rebuilding efforts, they are partnering with KaBOOM! to bring the joy of play back to communities that have suffered from the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy.
KaBOOM! is actively outreaching to connect with child-serving organizations that have been impacted by the storm to become KaBOOM! Community Partners for JetBlue’s three (3) playground build projects in 2013.
Eligible organizations include the following:
Note: Evaluation and screening of applications will not be exclusive to the JetBlue Rebuild initiative but will be against general viability criteria for a KaBOOM! lead Community Partner Playground project and ALL funding opportunities in the New York/ New Jersey area.
» I am a leader in a Sandy-impacted community. I am interested in having my organization become a KaBOOM! Community Partner. Learn more.
» I know a Sandy-impacted community that needs a playground. I want to help them become a KaBOOM! Community Partner. Let us know!
» I don’t have a specific recommendation but I’m interesting in volunteering my time. Please keep me informed about the JetBlue playground builds.
Sign up below to be informed of volunteer opportunities in your area.
To learn more about JetBlue’s rebuilding efforts please visit www.jetblue.com/rebuild.
When the weekend comes, we hope your kids are busy playing and reading. But we understand that you might be too busy to get to the store to buy the gear, supplies, and books they need to stay active and entertained.
We have a solution for you. AfterSchool.com, the new site featuring sports gear and activity supplies for kids, and Bookworm.com, an online children’s bookstore, are partnering with us to bring play to children everywhere.
New buyers can use the discount code SAVEPLAYBOOKS for 30% off up to three books at Bookworm.com and SAVEPLAYSPORTS for 30% off one item at AfterSchool.com. This offer expires on February 28, 2013. Additionally, each new customer referred through Bookworm.com or AfterSchool.com’s Refer-a-Friend program, will receive 20% off their first order, plus Bookworm.com or AfterSchool.com will make a $5 donation to KaBOOM! to go toward the building of playgrounds.
Launched on October 18, AfterSchool.com is the first-ever e-commerce site dedicated to helping parents find what they need for their kids’ favorite sports and activities. The site has everything from baseball bats and basketballs to bikes and ballet slippers. Bookworm.com began with a simple, but innovative, idea: create a children's bookstore that combines the magic of the corner bookshop you remember with the convenience of an easy-to-shop online destination.
Both sites offer a customizable shopping experience and deliver everything in two days or faster with free shipping on any order of $49+. Start shopping and save money while helping us save play!
AfterSchool.com and Bookworm.com’s sister site, YoYo.com, also supports KaBOOM! through their Refer-a-Friend program.
From Los Angeles to Detroit, folks across the country are rallying for more play. Here's a look back at five inspiring and noteworthy news stories from 2012:
Every day, we work to give kids in need a space where they can make lasting memories and lifetime friends. In doing so, we make our own friends and memories—with plenty of laughter along the way.
It is always gratifying to invest time and sweat into a project, and to see it through to fruition. But when when we look back, it's the moments we remember, moments when we made a new connection, or something was said that moved us or made us laugh.
Here are our 12 best moments of 2012. What were your best moments on the playground?
When disaster strikes, one of the most important things we can do for our children is give them time and space to play. In August 2012, KaBOOM! joined forces with the Kansas City Chiefs to build a playground in Joplin, Missouri, a community still reeling from the effects of the tornado that devastated the area 16 months prior.
When CJ Huff (above left), the Superintendent of Joplin Schools, recently visited the KaBOOM! headquarters, he talked to us about the many positive effects the playground had brought to the surrounding community. While kids’ talk about suicide had dramatically increased following the tornado, after the playground build, talk of suicide decreased. It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential.
"Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," CJ Huff said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."
In Elgin, Ill., a handful of volunteers were hard at work readying a site where we planned to build a playground the following day. One helper, local police Commander Glenn Theirault, ventured across the street to an abandoned house in hopes of finding an electrical source.
To Glenn’s surprise, he found that an 85-year-old woman named Dorothy lived there. The inside of her house was immaculate, but Dorothy had difficulty moving around and could no longer maintain the outside. She had tried to find help, but nothing came through. As they were talking, Glenn fell right through the rotted front porch!
Glenn came back on the playground build day with a crew of volunteers who built Dorothy a new front and back porch, cut her grass, cleared fallen trees, removed an old pool and trampoline, cleaned the gutters, painted the garage, and planted new landscaping. They unearthed Dorothy’s like-new riding lawnmower that she turned around and gave to a 16-year-old neighbor who is trying to start a lawn-mowing business. In return, he promised to keep her grass cut.
“I love to sit on my front porch and watch and hear the kids play at the park,” says Dorothy, who is incredibly grateful for everybody’s help. “With the new playground it is so colorful now!”
In November, our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond stepped down for a day so that the winners of our Little Artists contest, four-year-old Jake Bannister and six-year-old Helen Bartman, could assume the post. Their busy schedule included signing letters to our Board, running an all-staff meeting, testing out our Imagination Playground™ equipment, and leading a Senior Team huddle at our local playground.
Though Jake was initially a bit shy and overwhelmed, he and Helen became close colleagues after they had a chance to play. The above photo shows the two CEOs walking back from the playground as they strategize about effective kazoo-playing techniques. The moment was a moving testament to the power of play, reminding KaBOOM! staff of the importance of what we do.
Not everyone believes in the power of a playground—but some can be convinced. That’s what Jason Ellis learned when we partnered with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), The Washington Capitals Charities, and So Kids Can to build a playground in Alexandria, Va. Jason, who works at ARHA, found himself challenged by affluent neighbors who did not appreciate his community, much less the thought of a new playground there. Finally, one particularly vocal neighbor decided to meet with Jason and talk through his vision and his work with KaBOOM!. By the end of the meeting, she not only apologized for being unable to volunteer at the playground build, but she also handed Jason a check for $500!
Maybe only fools fall in love, but sometimes those fools are hardworking, mulch-shoveling volunteers. Kimmy Miller and Chris Ferry first met two years ago while volunteering at a playground build in Braddock, PA.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has since spoken at length about the impact of the playground in his town, which he refers to as the "Grand Central Station of Kidville." He notes that the community has taken an active role in not only maintaining the but also expanding the playground since its initial construction. That's why we KaBOOM! say, “It starts with a playground.” But now we’ll have to add marriage to our list of the many positive ripple effects a playground can set in motion. When we learned that Kimmy and Chris got engaged in December, we made sure to send some KaBOOM!-themed engagement presents their way. Rumor has it they will be wed on the playground.
In April, Nesbit Elementary School made KaBOOM! history by hosting the most volunteers ever on site for a single playground build, thanks to the generous sponsorship of DIRECTV. Over the course of one day, 840 volunteers hauled 530 cubic yards of engineered wood fiber and mixed over 80,000 pounds of concrete for the student-designed inclusive 10,000 square-foot playground.
During an amazing lunchtime performance by Nesbit students, Principal Clayborn Knight went on to make KaBOOM! history a second time by becoming the first principal to rap his gratitude for the new playground:
About eight months later, we were surprised yet again when we received 50 thank you cards (pictured above) that the kids worked on as part of a continued service learning project.
Not everyone welcomes teens at playgrounds—in fact, some go so far as to ban them. But downtown St. Louis neighbors Matt O’Leary and Kelly Kelsey were delighted when 40 teens arrived unexpectedly at the site of a future playground, asking how they could help.
Matt and Kelly had long wished that someone would do something about Lucas Park, which for years was littered with needles and trash, and known for drinking, drug use, and other unruly behavior. Meanwhile, the 350 children under age six who lived nearby had no place to play.
Eventually they got sick of waiting. Forming a nonprofit called Friends of Lucas Park, they applied for, and received, a KaBOOM! Let’s Play construction grant. They rallied their community to raise additional funds, and using our tools on Our Dream Playground, formed a planning committee to organize a done-in-a-day playground build.
On Build Day, they expected about 60 volunteers, but ended up with a hundred. Alongside fellow community members, teens hauled wheelbarrows, shoveled dirt, and assembled equipment, constructing a beautiful new playground in less than 12 hours.
Says Kelly, since the playground build, “The park has gone through a complete transformation – a total 180. Area residents are shocked at the change.” She adds, “I’ve seen so many families in the park that I’ve never seen before. I knew there were more kids in the neighborhood, but they never played outside.”
Calgary mom Dana Wheatley wasn’t playing around when she took on our Summer Playground Challenge — to visit as many playgrounds with her kids as she could. Over the course of six weeks, she and her kids, Gordie (pictured above) and Nicole, explored a whopping total of 431 playgrounds! “Sometimes I wonder if we’re going to too many playgrounds, Gordie is acting like everything is a playground,” Dana mused while sharing a photo on her blog of Gordie trying to scale a glass railing at the Calgary Tower. But if there's one thing Dana has learned, it's that “there is no such thing as too many playgrounds.”
Improved sleep is one of the many benefits of outdoor play—beneficial for kids and parents alike. Dana experienced this benefit firsthand. Though three-year-old Gordie had been dropping his naps, she said, “we've been really wearing him out in the playgrounds so he's started napping most days again. [Recently] I told him that when we got home it would be time for his quiet time. He yelled, 'No! I want a nap!'"
Many school playgrounds are closed after hours, but that doesn't always stop kids from playing on them. Such was the case at William Penn Elementary School in the Playful City USA community of Bethlehem, Pa.
Some school administrators might have reacted by punishing the children for trespassing, but not Principal Nathan Stannard. Acutely aware that the kids in this low-income neighborhood needed a 'home playground' and had nowhere else to play, he championed the cause to make a formal agreement to open the playground to the public after hours. He hopes to inspire other school administrators to do the same.
A three-time Playful City USA honoree, Bethlehem received a Let's Play Joint Use Grant, with a goal of opening five school playgrounds to the public in 2012. Thanks in part to the support of school officials like Stannard, they opened nearly double that number. Now, children in nine communities enjoy evening and weekend access to playgrounds that were formerly off-limits.
Our hardworking Project Managers are constantly on the road and often participate in conference calls while waiting for flights at the airport. You need to talk quite loud to be heard on the phone at the airport, but apparently traveler Lena deMorais didn’t mind. She gave KaBOOM! staffer Kenny Altenburg the above note (left) while he was wrapping up a call.
Kenny didn't see who had given him the note, but after he boarded his plane, a young woman leaned across the aisle and said, "Thank you for buidling playgrounds for these kids."
The story doesn’t end there. Once they landed in Portland, Ore. Lena actually came to the playground build that Kenny was managing, with four other volunteers in tow. Alongside volunteers from Home Forward (Portland's Housing Authority) and our funding partner Humana, they spent over six hours mixing concrete, shoveling mulch, and assembling playground equipment.
It's always nice to get a firsthand reminder of why we do what we do. We all know that play has myriad physical, emotional, cognitive, and social benefits, but at its core, play is just plain FUN.
That's why, when the National Building Museum opened its amazing exhibit, PLAY WORK BUILD, we had to check it out. The exhibit features Imagination Playground™—those "awesome blue blocks" we all know and love, but also mini versions of the blocks, as well as a one-of-a-kind virtual block play experience.
The only experience more rewarding than playing ourselves is watching our own children play. Pictured above from left to right are daughters of our COO James Siegal, Software Engineer Lukas Eklund, and daughter of Sr. Manager of Online Content and Community Kerala Taylor. As an added bonus, Kerala reported that after playing with Imagination Playground™ blocks for over two hours, her 13-month-old proceeded to "sleep through the night for the first time EVER!"
Back in 2010, we worked with the Windsor Cove housing complex (formerly known as the Palms) in Orlando, Fla. to replace its decrepit playground. The community had been brought to its knees following a mass shooting in 2008, and many of the mothers who lived there were afraid to let their kids play outside. Windsor Cove resident and mother of three Yolanda Robinson told us, "You have people shooting and you have to think—well if I send my kids outside today they just might get shot."
When KaBOOM! staffer David Flanigan recently traveled to Windsor Cove to check in on the playground we had helped build there three years ago, he was hopeful but anxious. The last thing he wanted to find was an empty playground and parents still fearful of sending their children outside. He need not have worried. He found the playground crawling with kids and a community that, according to resident Melody Hills, "continued to talk to one another and come together, despite the challenges."
Melody told David that the mothers who were directly involved in the playground planning and building process moved toward self-sufficiency. "Four of the women gained employment, two went to school, and two moved out of the Palms Apartments Community," she said. "But, most of all, I will never forget the looks on the faces of the children when the playground was completed. That was priceless!"
In September, we asked you to submit your best shot of a happy child at play and to let us know why your family values play. After receiving nearly 500 submissions to our Joy of Play Photo Contest, we're pleased to announce the winners!
Traci Orr says: "Samson is a little shy, but being on the playground gives him a sense of fearlessness and helps him connect with other kids. Free play allows him to expand his imagination and express his creativity. It also helps us connect as a family and learn more about each other."
Angelyn Smith says: "Play helps us bond as a family. It helps us trust each other and appreciate each other's laughs and smiles. We value playing with our daughter as we want her to grow up seeing the world as an adventurous place."
Carly Morgan says: "Eva didn't start walking until almost 18 months and she was a very clingy, whiny baby because she couldn't get around easily. As soon as she took her first steps, we hit the local playgrounds and her independence just exploded! Now she launches herself down the slides without any help (or fear!) and she's sure to add a 'Yeah! Yeah, baby!' at the end to let us know she's proud of herself. She's almost as proud as we are!!"
Cynira Clay says: "My family values play because it gives the kids the opportunity to be kids and just explore the world on their own. We feel it’s necessary for child development socially and emotionally."
For the 12 years that Matt O’Leary has lived in downtown St. Louis, he wished someone would do something about Lucas Park. Littered with needles and trash, the park was known for drinking, drug use, and other unruly behavior. Meanwhile, the 350 children under age six who lived nearby had no place to play.
Eventually Matt got sick of waiting, and he wasn't the only one. When his neighbor Kelly Kelsey found out about our Let's Play construction grants, they decided to join forces to form a nonprofit called Friends of Lucas Park. They recognized that “people feel so strongly about the park not only because of the tremendous negatives the park has brought, but because… Lucas Park could be a tremendous asset that is denied to them, the place where Downtown’s various communities instinctually want to gather and build a sense of community.”
Kelly and Matt promptly got to work. While Matt focused on landscape improvements, Kelly applied for, and received, a Let’s Play construction grant. She rallied her community to raise additional funds, and using our tools on Our Dream Playground, formed a planning committee to organize a done-in-a-day playground build that drew from existing community assets.
On September 8, 2012, an estimated 100 volunteers—including 40 teenagers who showed up unexpectedly asking how they could help—hauled wheelbarrows, shoveled dirt, and assembled equipment, constructing a beautiful new playground in less than 12 hours.
Says Kelly, since the playground build, “The park has gone through a complete transformation – a total 180. Area residents are shocked at the change.” She adds, “I’ve seen so many families in the park that I’ve never seen before. I knew there were more kids in the neighborhood, but they never played outside.”
Friends of Lucas Park know that their work isn’t finished. That’s why at KaBOOM! we say, “It starts with a playground.” The rest of the park remains fenced off until they complete more renovations. The group is also aware that even a brand-new playground could fall into disrepair if not cared for by the surrounding community. They plan to keep neighbors engaged in the maintenance of the playground so that future generations of downtown St. Louis families can enjoy a safe, communal place to play.
Photos courtesy of Friends of Lucas Park.
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!