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
On March 4th, 2011 KaBOOM!, KIPP Legacy Prep School and the Walt Disney Company built a great new place to play in Houston. One of the community project leaders, Ms. Berry, grew up in the community and says that things like this just don't happen in this neighborhood. It means a lot for the neighbors to see something so positive.
Play it forward with a donation today if you believe all communities deserve a great place for their kids to play.
"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.