Fifteen years ago, California resident Jim Roberts had no idea that he would be crowned Napa Valley’s ‘Playground King.’ “I had an office supply store for 35 years,” he says. “What do I know about playgrounds?”
Jim had retired from his business and was volunteering as an academic mentor at a school in a low-income neighborhood. One day, he stopped by the principal’s office and found her terribly upset. A student had just fallen off a piece of equipment on the school playground and suffered a concussion.
“We went out to look at the playground,” Jim says, “and I saw a cement curb only two feet away from the equipment. I could tell this wasn’t safe. I said, this has got to be replaced, this is terrible.”
The principal happened to have a catalog from the playground equipment company Landscape Structures in her filing cabinet. They began poring over the catalog and Jim soon enlisted the help of Landscape Structures to come up with a plan. When Jim took the plan to the school’s Board of Directors, they proposed that he and his local Kiwanis club build the playground.
Jim says, “We dug in, and we got that playground down. It was sprinkling the whole time, but we didn’t care. A part was missing and we had to race out and get it, but we got the playground together and saved the school a lot of money.”
Jim was in his early 70s then. Now, at age 86, he has 58 playground builds under his belt, with three more in the works. “The Kiwanis club here is just incredible,” Jim says, “they just roll up their sleeves and chip in. On five different occasions, we’ve built two playgrounds in the same weekend. We’ve even had members join the club just because they wanted to help build playgrounds.”
Most of these playground builds have taken place at Napa Valley schools. Jim believes that playgrounds are a vital asset to a school community. “The kids just can’t sit there and study all the time, they wouldn’t hear anything after a while, they’d just turn off,” he says. “It’s important for them to get out and get fresh air, and have a challenging, fun, colorful playground. When they get out of class, they RACE, they RACE to that playground.”
It’s important for Jim that the playgrounds offer elements of challenge so children can learn and push themselves both inside and outside the classroom. Thinking back to his own childhood, Jim says, “I learned nothing on the playground. When I went to school, all we had was a turning bar. I remember digging holes in the ground and playing marbles. I want to provide for these kids what I didn’t have.”
He continues to be amazed by the challenges that children will rise to when given the opportunity. “Like overhead bars, for instance,” he says. “My daughter was a principal, and she said, I want this for the kindergarten, and it was an overhead structure. I thought the kids were too small, but we put in the structure, and now these tiny little kids are going hand over hand, whipping across the thing!”
Of course, children need a safe place to play both inside and outside of school. Luckily, the schools in Napa Valley keep their playgrounds open to the surrounding community outside of school hours. “When the school builds a playground, that’s recreation for the whole neighborhood,” Jim says. “I pass by some of the playgrounds on a Saturday, and all kinds of kids are there with their parents doing this or that.”
A recipient of multiple Let’s Play Completion Grants from KaBOOM!, Jim acknowledges that the hardest part of building a playground is coming up with the funds. Beyond that, all it takes is a can-do spirit and a hardworking group of volunteers. The community build model that Jim has helped to popularize across the Napa Valley has not only saved the county over a million dollars—which they have used to invest in other park projects—but has helped the community feel more invested in the end product.
As Jim can attest, the “end product” is not just a collection of colorful equipment. “It’s a hub for the whole neighborhood,” he says. “A magnet for kids, doing something safe, good, and healthy; learning and challenging themselves; and most importantly, having fun.”
"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!
"Late afternoon one day, when I was just six years old, I heard a series of loud cracking noises. Suddenly, my grandmother pushed me and my sister down and threw her body on top of us. When we woke the next day, I learned that a drive by shooting happened the night before.
It was in that moment that I became aware of the reality of poverty and violence in my neighborhood. Although my father was addicted to drugs and never around and my mother struggled to raise my sister and I on clerk’s wages, I was blessed with teachers, family and community members who helped me stay focused on my dreams and efforts to go to college. It wasn't until I visited South Africa in 2001 and saw shanty towns, that I understood where poverty, privilege and power intersect and realized that no one should have to grow up the way I did, or for that matter, the way the South African kids were either.
As I grew older, I came to learn that 31 people in my family were in prison, and just 1 of us was in college - me. I went on to graduate school and decided to return to my community, Inglewood, to teach critical literacy to black male youth at Morningside High School and help them experience what I felt when I went to South Africa. At Morningside, I founded the Black Male Youth Academy where I work with students and community members to use research in order to identify social issues in our community and then find solutions.
Two years ago, they decided to tackle food justice and began an initiative called "100 Seeds of Change" where they are creating 100 urban gardens – community, school and home gardens. Our program got a big lift this March at a KaBOOM! playground build where my BMYA students led the construction of a wonderful new community garden, next to the brand new playground in Inglewood.
That day, we helped move the 20 tons of soil into over 50 garden beds that were then filled with vegetables, fruits, flowers, and plants. There was a stage and 9 benches to transform a once unsavory concrete desert into an outdoor classroom that stood in front of a custom mural. Two picnic tables turned a barren wading pool into a pleasant lunching spot. A storage box was placed near the garden beds for onsite access to tools and supplies and future plans include the building of an 'outdoor kitchen' that will allow for the community to grow, harvest, prepare, and eat in the same space as where they play and gather.
Both myself, and my students left feeling empowered at the end of the day, and I know we’ll be able to do even more now."
– Dart Scorza, Inglewood, CA
Dart was already a leader in his community, and with the help of KaBOOM! he was able to empower even more people.
Play it forward today to help us work with more leaders like Dart.
“I have been fighting against a rising tide of needs in the Spring Valley neighborhood of San Diego for over two decades, always just barely keeping my head above water. For so many years Spring Valley has been defined by what it lacks, not by what it has.
We have an incredibly rich culture with people from every walk of life and background, but what everyone outside saw was an unsafe and transient community. Every year 25% of our school population moved – Spring Valley was an epicenter of foreclosures in 2008 and 2009. As a former juvenile probation officer I know you needed to invest in people early, and that just wasn’t happening.
Then, in February of this year, I was thrilled to help bring about the physical manifestation of the change my community needed. KaBOOM! built a bright, colorful, gorgeous new playground at the Spring Valley Community Center with a walking trail and a community garden.
Thanks to the efforts of a local city council member (who was inspired by the playground project) large green soccer fields now extend behind the playground. Those community gardens, built back in February, are now home to a regional garden education center, where I discovered the green thumb I never knew I had. These gardens have not only grown plants, they’ve grown community.”
– Barbara Warner, Spring Valley, CA
Barbara knows that where you live says a lot about who you are, and her community is now a place where people want to invest and spend time in.
Play it forward to help grow other communities across the country.
This week, we are proud to honor 151 cities and towns across the country that make play a priority and use innovative programs to get children active, playing, and healthy. Playful City USA, a national recognition program spanning 38 states and one territory, asks honorees to develop unique local action plans to increase access to play in their communities.
In the fifth year of the annual program, 19 Playful City USA communities received recognition for the fifth consecutive year, 24 earned honors for the fourth time, 29 for the third time, and 30 for the second time, while 49 claimed their first Playful City USA designation.
Towns and cities across the country are showing off their Playful City USA pride. Is your hometown celebrating its Playful City USA honor? Send us photos and we'll feature them in a future blog post!
Riverside, Calif. (left) and Dothan, Ala. (right)
York, Pa. (left) and Miami Lakes, Fla. (right)
Creedmoor, N.C. (left) and Fishers, Ind. (right)
Is your city playful? See our full list here.
With the holiday season winding down and a new year fast approaching, we figured that the good cheer shouldn’t have to dwindle! It’s in this spirit that we give you the last Inspiration Monday of 2009. But don’t worry! There are plenty of great stories to continue into 2010, and many more memories to be made!
There's something to be said about the physical transformation of a space that happens when a brand new playground is built. What one might not realize, however, is that when a community works together to accomplish this task, the greatest transformation tends to be something intangible: the changing of minds.
Such a change occurred in the city of La Habra, Calif. following its playground build at Corona Park on Aug. 15. It was here that 214 adult volunteers and 50 children (playing games and wielding paintbrushes for their own 1x1 murals) came together to turn an empty lot where gangs tended to congregate into a safe haven of community pride and fellowship. A week following the opening, one of the residents who was asked about how the playground looked stated that she hadn’t been able to see the playground due to the number of kids enjoying it!
However, the lasting effect has been on the neighborhood as a whole. Followers have become leaders. There have been stories of neighbors putting aside their disputes and using the park as a place of gathering and camaraderie. In an area usually full of gang activity, there hasn’t been a single instance of vandalism on the site and, in fact, it seems to be protected from such occurrences as a safe place for the children. Gangs have dissipated because parents are actually sitting outside with their kids. There’s always someone to watch over the playground and keep it clean and neat, and the park has even become the host to numerous activities including monthly community meetings (with higher attendance than ever)!
"Inspiration Monday" is a new, regular KaBOOM! blog feature.
Here's a collection of videos covering our playground build with CaliforniaVolunteers, First Lady Michelle Obama, and California First Lady Maria Shriver on June 22. (Some of which have ads at the beginning - apologies.)
California First Lady Maria Shriver and First Lady Michelle Obama speak to playground volunteers (NBC Bay Area News):
ABC 7 local coverage:
Watch the opening session of the National Conference on Volunteering & Service LIVE (2:30 p.m. PDT June 23)
Here are some stories about our build with CaliforniaVolunteers, First Lady Michelle Obama, and First Lady Maria Shriver June 22!
Next week's Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco, Calif. will not only feature First Lady Michelle Obama and California’s first lady Maria Shiver during the opening session, but will also serve as the official kick-off to the United We Serve summer initiative, a program intended to renew the American spirit of volunteerism and service.
As part of the events surrounding the conference, KaBOOM! and California Volunteers will partner to build a great new place to play at the Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco, Calif. on Monday. KaBOOM! will also premiere its United We Serve program, "Pledge Allegiance to Play" next week. Pledge Allegiance to Play will provide volunteers, new and old, with ways they can engage with local issues and improve their communities. Visit kaboom.org then to see all the exciting things you can do to support your community!
The Conference on Volunteering and Service, co-sponsored by the Points of Light Institute and the Corporation for National and Community Service, will serve as the world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government, and corporate sectors and aims to recharge, engage and bring back new ideas and civic energy to strengthen the reach and impact of the participating organizations.
Related articles: Michelle Obama's SF visit: The frenzy begins (San Francisco Chronicle) - Michelle Obama to speak Monday at San Francisco conference (Mercury News)