As early as 5:30 this morning, purple-shirted volunteers could be seen congregating at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Washington, DC to build our 2000th playground and celebrate our 15th birthday. Imagine Southeast, a tuition-free public charter school, has had no playground equipment at all for its 480 students—but that was all about the change.
After a week of extreme heat, we were relieved to find the sun shining not quite-so-fiercely, as hours of mulch-shoveling, concrete-mixing, slide-hoisting, and other physically demanding tasks lay ahead of us. The day officially kicked off with some invigorating warm-up exercises around 8:30 a.m. Among those in attendance were 150 parents and staff from Imagine Southeast, over 85 Boomers (KaBOOM! staff), and AmeriCorps volunteers. We wasted no time getting to work: There were rock walls to assemble; gardens to plant; picnic tables to build; and murals to paint.
As afternoon approached, some semblance of a playground was starting to emerge and the mulch pile looked quite a bit less daunting. Still, we knew we could use some extra hands, and luckily, help was on the way. Joining us were some very special volunteers from the White House – members of Congress, who were participating in the 2011 Congressional Day of Service Event; the Honorable Arne Duncan (below left); and First Lady Michelle Obama!
Said the First Lady, "You all make sure you help take care of this playground. You make sure that kids get over here and play. We want you all moving." Mrs. Obama is not a playground-building novice -- in June 2009, she joined California First Lady Maria Shriver at Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco to transform the school’s vacant play lot into an intergenerational playground and garden.
But this time, Mrs. Obama wanted to try her hand at something new. "I’m going to mix concrete!" she announced. "It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to mix concrete." We quickly put the First Lady, the Honorable Duncan, and our Congress members to work, and in just over an hour, the finished playground sparkled under the afternoon sun.
As Mrs. Obama prepared to cut the ribbon (above right, with our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond), we hummed “Happy Birthday” to KaBOOM! through hundreds of purple and orange kazoos to close out a thoroughly exhausting, thoroughly rewarding day.
Our 2,000th build was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with the participation of our National Partners Dr Pepper Snapple, Foresters, Kraft Foods Foundation, JetBlue, and MetLife Foundation. It represents the collective effort of not just the hundreds of volunteers who were present, but also the one million volunteers who over the past 15 years have contributed their time and sweat to give 5,501,334 children a great place to play.
All photos by Chris Sopher, courtesy of the Knight Foundation.
As you may know, next week we'll be celebrating our 15th birthday by building our 2000th playground at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School! We're honored that our 2,000th build has also been designated The Congressional Day of Service Event for 2011!
How will a playground help transform Imagine Southeast? We've already heard from the students of Imagine Southeast, who shared with us their dream playground designs. And we heard from an Imagine Southeast teacher, Mrs. Shacola Nickens, who emphasized the importance of play in education.
But we haven't heard yet from the parents of Imagine Southeast, who are just as excited about the playground as their children!
Vickie Moore says, "My son is so looking forward to the playground at ISE. He tells me that for so long when they had outdoor recess they had absolutely nothing to play with. All they did was run and play tag....now he knows he will have a variety of playground equipment to play with."
Adds Fran Jackson, "My daughter loves to climb and swing. So I know she will be entertained with the beautiful playground. Having a playground at school will help relieve some of her energy before we go home. I keep reminding myself that all the work is for a good cause and the end result will make the children happy."
Mr. Mills think the playground is "a great idea! [It] will help the children learn how to interact with one another and develop important communication skills as well.”
Learn more about our 2000th build and join us in celebrating 15 years and 2,000 playgrounds by signing our online birthday card! Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to see the playground build in action on June 15!