Hurricanes like the one that hit Houston, Texas last August do a lot of physical damage— cars, home, buildings— but they can also rip the fabric of communities. In the aftermath of that kind of tragedy, many communities struggle to get back to "normal."
One such community was South Houston Elementary, where Maria Garza's 8 and 9-year old kids attend school. As part of a broader hurricane recovery effort, KaBOOM! and UnitedHealthcare teamed up with Maria and the rest of the community to rebuild the school's playground.
Maria Garza, second from right, helps build playground equipment
The moment Maria heard about the project, she deemed it "awesome!" and rallied her family and friends to get involved. Together they transformed more than a schoolyard.
Maria and her family happen to live right across the street from the elementary school, and she had a vested interest not only in the school community, but in giving her kids a great place to get out and be active. "I'm all for something more healthy and exciting for the kids that will get them outside playing instead of inside sitting around looking at screens," said Maria. And the existing playground had seen better days after the hurricane.
Maria jumped right in on the KaBOOM! playspace Design Day. She helped generate buzz and excitement among her family, neighbors and friends and convinved them to volunteer a few weeks later on Build Day. That was on March 24, 2018, which also happened to be her daughter's 8th birthday.
I could feel it. This is good for the kids, and good for the community.
Working with KaBOOM! on the project was wonderfully surprising for Maria. "It's something I had never experienced before," she said. "KaBOOM! guided us through the whole process. From the initial conversations and gathering support, to recruiting neighbors and even tightening play equipment bolts on build day. Best of all, the KaBOOM! people work with you. They help you. It's like a big family."
Maria remembers taking a break that day and pausing to look around and really take it all in. "I'm going to remember this always. We came together with our neighbors. My husband was even there doing a wood construction project," Maria said. "We built this together. It's a really special day."
Today, right through her window, Maria can see both kids and parents are already enjoying the playground as a community gathering spot, whether they're there to exercise or socialize. Even in the aftermath of tragedy, Maria found herself surrounded by smiles, laughter, joy and a real sense of community.
More photos from the day
This Saturday, Sept. 28, be sure to tune into PBS to catch American Graduate Day 2013, a seven-hour live broadcast and outreach event. This “call-to-action” telethon will profile more than 20 national Community Partners, including KaBOOM!. Celebrity hosts such as Juju Chang, Brian Williams, Susie Gharib, Rebecca Jarvis and other journalistic luminaries will serve as anchors throughout the broadcast.
“American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” is a national public media initiative that leverages the power and reach of public television to help communities across America address the high school dropout crisis. KaBOOM! is excited to see that play is being recognized as a critical component of a student's academic achievement and long-term success.
Our participants will be Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent of Joplin Schools, and CJ August, Special Education Instructor for the Beacon School. Joplin, Mo. was devastated by a tornado in May of 2011, which destroyed several schools in the area. Dr. Huff led the school district, and the community at large, in rebuilding efforts, pinpointing play opportunities for children as a critically important issue in the aftermath of the tornado.
In August of 2012, KaBOOM! partnered with Joplin Public Schools and the Kansas City Chiefs to build a playground at its Beacon School, which serves special needs children and didn’t previously have a playground. Dr. Huff and Mr. August will be appearing on the show to speak about how the community came together to build the playground in one day (pictured above), and the difference the playground has made for the children at Beacon School -- academically, socially, and emotionally.
Don't miss this informative and inspiring national event! Check your local public television listings or watch the livestream starting at noon EST at americangraduate.org.
Four months ago, the kids at Phil Campbell Elementary School in northern Alabama had their lives turned upside down—literally. It was on a Wednesday, at 10:45 a.m., that the first storm warnings sounded. The school was quickly evacuated before the mid-afternoon tornadoes hit, but one of its teachers and two of its students would never return.
They were three of the 28 people who died in this tight-knit, rural community of 1,000. The tornadoes also took away the school’s playground, which was the only playground in town. After such a tragedy, a playground was exactly what these children needed to heal and recover.
Like most folks in Phil Campbell, lifelong resident Kim Sherrill grew up climbing on monkey bars, sliding, swinging and creating imaginary worlds with her friends. Kim understands the healing power of play, and she is determined to do whatever she can to replace that playground. That’s why she reached out to us.
Kim says, "They need a place to run and play and be kids again, away from the rubble and pain. Some of these children lost family members—one even lost his leg. We need a playground that is safe and fun; for a child, play is therapeutic and necessary."
Help us fill the empty field at Phil Campbell Elementary School with playing children by chipping in for Imagination Playground™ blocks.
We hope to give the kids in Phil Campbell an Imagination Playground™TM, a revolutionary new play system that encourages unstructured, creative play. Engaging a child’s body and mind simultaneously, Imagination Playground™ consists of large blue foam blocks, similar to life-size tinker toys. These blocks let children create fairy houses, rocket ships, castles, or anything else that they imagine.
Join us in giving the kids in Phil Campbell not just a place to play, but an outlet to heal and to work through their tangled emotions in a safe and comforting environment. We can’t rebuild roofs, restore livelihoods or bring back lost loved ones, but we can bring play back to the children of Phil Campbell, Alabama.
Let’s get started! Make your contribution today.