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Our dream playground - KaBOOM! News

The deadline for our Let's Play Video Contest is fast approaching! Create a one-minute video by Friday, March 8 showing us why your community needs a playground, and you could win one of five $15,000 equipment grants from Let’s Play, a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

Watch this video to learn more:

A panel of internal play experts will determine the top 10 finalists based on video content, quality, creativity, and demonstrated need. The finalist videos will then be put to a public vote to determine the five winners.

For more information and to get started, visit Our Dream Playground now.


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.