When it comes to her job, Cara Spencer has a relentless source of motivation: her son. Since she was elected as a city council member in 2015, Cara has been working to make her neighborhood, Gravois Park, a safer place for him and for all who live there.
"Gravois Park is one of the most challenged neighborhoods in St. Louis. We have violent crime here on a regular basis," says Cara.
With 39% of residents living at or below the poverty line, it can be difficult for her neighbors to feel hopeful about the area. But Cara wanted to begin to change that by focusing on the neighborhood park.
Gravois Park had a broken playground; photo by Daniel Henrichs
The park is brimming with potential— it's in the center of a densely populated, diverse community. But for a long time, it was not somewhere Cara felt comfortable bringing her son. The lack of well-lit areas and broken playground equipment signaled danger and warded off local kids and families.
"It just felt wrong," says Cara. "We had this barely functional playground, and it invited anything but play."
She decided it was time to do something about it. Cara's team put in new lighting, planted trees, and focused on making the space more welcoming to kids and families. "Better connected communities are safer. And the park is a place where neighbors make connections and become friends."
Cara (second from right) stands proudly in front of the new playground
While the park landscaping was looking better, Cara couldn't find the funding to build a new playground. Then, last year, the local business district applied for— and was awarded— a KaBOOM! grant.
Throughout the planning process, businesses donated supplies, the school recruited volunteers, and neighbors signed up to help.
"This project really brought people together like never before," said Cara. When it was time to build the playground, people of all ages and backgrounds showed up to contribute. This was the first opportunity many of them had to meet their neighbors! Many had never even been to the park before.
Building a playground brought the community closer together
Despite St. Louis having one of the highest crime rates in the nation, the Gravois Park neighborhood has seen a 16% drop in crime over the past year.
Cara believes that collectively creating a safe public space led to increased community cohesion and ownership over where they live. "There's no substitute for having a project to work on together and, after it's done, having a beautiful playground for our kids that everyone is proud of. And they should be— they built it!"
There's still much work to be done, but already, Cara is noticing progress. People are looking out for each other and taking care of the park.
The most noticeable sign of success? There are kids and families using the playground! Often times, this includes Cara and her son.
Nearly every member of a community in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation came together to help build a playground not only to improve the lives of the 2,800 children who live there, but also, perhaps, to save them. The town of Thoreau, located about 100 miles west of Albuquerque in the red mesas of northwestern New Mexico, has been coping with a high suicide rate, ranging anywhere from nine to 29 per year—a big portion for a town with a population of less than 2,000.
In addition to the high suicide rate, “unemployment rates are very high, poverty is the norm, and physical isolation is a major problem,” says Trudi Griffin, the principal at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, a private, tuition-free Catholic school in the community. St. Bonaventure reached out to KaBOOM! for help building a place for children to play.
Studies have shown play and physical activity is essential for the overall health, well-being, and happiness of children. According to the most recent issue of the American Journal of Play, “The decline of children’s play time has led to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self-control.” A recent quantitative study from Insight Strategy Group, commissioned by KaBOOM!, with the support of the Mattel Children’s Foundation, reports that parents and children both see play as a way to relax and get rid of stress. And for good reason—sometimes the most important thing to remember about play is its simplest definition: play is fun.
For this struggling community, a playground seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
To get the process started, St. Bonaventure took the initiative, filling out the application. But local parents also got involved. “Children have no place safe to play during the summer,” and “There is no place for young children to go to stay out of trouble,” parents wrote in letters to KaBOOM!. The final piece of the puzzle was put into place when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) stepped up to fund the playground, to “help New Mexico stay healthy,” said a rep from BCBSNM on the day the playground was built.
Together, the community, KaBOOM! and BCBSNM assembled the 2,500 square foot playspace that features more than 2,000 ways for kids ages 2–12 to engage both physically and mentally. The site features slides, swings and learning panels, and can accommodate up to 60 kids at once. Parents and other adults can stand in shade cover, sit on benches or gather at picnic tables nearby while kids play—all elements that were built alongside the playground with the help of volunteers from the community.
In June 2013, the playground was ready for action. In addition to a bright new space, the playground signifies something larger to the town. Chris Halter, Executive Director of St. Bonaventure says, “This playground means hope, it means excitement, it means blessing for all these children.”
We hope this playground brings joy to the children and the adults of Thoreau for years to come.
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.
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.”
Playgrounds, children and joy: three things that go together about as well as anything.
Promoting the happiness and well-being of kids and families is at the heart of what Disney does each and every day, which is why KaBOOM! and Disney have partnered together to build dozens of playgrounds and community gardens across the U.S.
Disney is a KaBOOM! National Partner and supports the efforts of KaBOOM! to help achieve our vision of a great play to play within walking distance of every child in America. As part of their 2013 efforts with KaBOOM!, Disney will build14 new playgrounds in 10 states and Mexico. By the end of 2013, Disney’s support will bring the magic of play to more than 50,000 children and families. Disney also supports KaBOOM! mapping efforts by encouraging everyone to map playspaces and to help identify areas most in need.
In May, Disney is celebrating 30 years of VoluntEARS – Disney’s companywide volunteer efforts. KaBOOM! and Disney will celebrate the anniversary by bringing smiles and laughter to thousands of children and families with playground builds in Clermont, Fla., Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Cloud, Fla., and Kailua, Hawaii.
Check out the video link here to Disney’s latest project in Chicago:
Update 8/29: When we last checked in with Ed Barker in April, he had recently completed his 50th playground build with KaBOOM!, but Ed certainly wasn’t satisfied with reaching the half-century mark. In only a few months, he added 10 builds to his tally and has now participated in an incredible 60 KaBOOM! playground builds!
Ed’s unwavering passion and determination to help give kids the childhood they deserve by bringing play to those who need it most also resulted in another milestone: the Points of Light Institute recognized his incredible commitment by naming Ed as the Daily Points of Light Award honoree on Aug. 29. Ed impressed the team at Points of Light so much that they even wrote this feature story about him!
Keep up the great work, Ed!
We always say that volunteering on a KaBOOM! playground build is a “feel-good” experience, and for Ed Barker (at right), that feeling has lasted not just for six hours, but for over six years. A self-described “KaBOOM! volunteer addict,” Ed recently participated in his 50th playground build. He has worked alongside more than 10,000 volunteers, bringing play to 27,500 children in need.
During volunteer appreciation month, we want to take a moment to honor Ed’s inspiring contributions to our cause, and to find out what keeps him coming back. Here’s what Ed has to say:
My real job is for Fannie Mae. I’m a Senior Account Manager – I visit banks, mortgage companies, and credit unions and buy up their loan portfolios. Fannie in turn will securitize all the collective purchases so they can provide capital for more home loans. It’s a circular community reinvestment, so we can put as many people in homes as possible.
That’s actually what attracted me most to the playground builds. What I do day to day, I visit the banks, visit the people in suits just like me, but I never get to see the smiles on the borrower’s faces as they sign the loan documents, or when the bank hands them the keys.
I do get to see that on the playground. The fulfillment piece comes at the very end, when you’re with the people you worked side by side with all day long. You see the smiles on their faces as they see what was accomplished and I especially enjoy the joy on the kids’ faces when they see their new playground. It sounds kind of corny, but it really is cool and validates all the hard work.
There are other benefits, too. I can’t tell you the number of times when I see people who are neighbors but who have never met one another, and who are friends by the end of the day. Really, it’s the playground creating a community rather than the community creating a playground.
The build that sticks out most in my memory is actually the first build I participated in. Fannie Mae was sponsoring five builds in one day in New Orleans the year after Katrina hit. Fannie put their sales meeting down in New Orleans so they could have half the company on site to build playgrounds.
Initially, my main goal for the trip was just to have fun, but I was curious what had really happened during the hurricane. I had a cab driver drive me around, and I couldn’t believe how humbling the destruction was. I had a nice hotel back in the French Quarter with all my creature comforts, and there was complete devastation 15 minutes away. The tone of my trip changed from, “I’m here to have fun” to, “I’m here to work and leave something that others are going to have fun on.”
I did work hard, but I had a blast too. The mulch pile must have been two stories high, and there was ridiculous humidity and heat, but I was up there dancing, having a great time. We even got done a half hour early! At the end of the day, the kids were there and I was collecting up tools wearing my silly Build Day hat, and one kids said, “I like your hat.” I said, “You can have it,” and he took out a coin that he had gotten from a Mardi Gras parade float and he said, “Then I want you to have this.” It meant a lot to him to carry it around in his pocket and yet he gave it to me. It meant that much to me that he appreciated my effort that I still carry that coin around with me to this day.
I caught a bug on my first build. I wanted to have that feeling more often. Since then, I’ve been constantly seeking out if I can build a playground during business travel, or use my vacation time; it’s that fulfilling. I also get free T-shirts and hot dogs, so there are some side benefits, I can’t complain!
It’s all about making the world a little better, one playground at a time. I’ve been able influence others – not only coworkers, but some friends, my neighbors, even my family. I help out on Prep Day too, before the build, and they always want to know, “Why would you want to spend 10 hours one day digging holes, coming home covered in mud and stinking and then go right back out the next day?” But once I bring them to a build, they get it.
With each one of these builds, I’ve made at least one really good friend that I stay in touch with. I’m not great on social media but I’m good at picking up the phone and calling people. There are at least 30 people I keep in touch with, and I’ve gone back to some of the towns I’ve volunteered in to visit with them.
The last build I participated in, my 50th, was in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago, with one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country. It made me think, “Why are teenagers shooting each other? How did it get like this?” It all starts at the childhood stage. They lost trust in their family, their neighbors, and their community. So you have to rebuild that trust and show them people care. The playground is just a piece of that.
As a volunteer, it gives you a good feeling when you drive past a playground and see kids and families. You see a mom sitting on a bench you helped build that wasn’t there before. It makes you feel good all over again. Being a volunteer is also about rebuilding yourself – find your passion, find what drives you most to benefit others and throw your whole self into it. When I look back on all the projects I have helped complete, I loved them all. But I am more excited about the ones I have yet to complete.
In July 2012, we partnered with Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the Westside Community Improvement Association in Eureka, Calif. to build a playground at a site that was formerly an abandoned schoolyard. Not only are children of all ages flocking to the new playground, but neighbors are getting to know each other, crime is decreasing, and families are biking more and eating better. Here, Eureka resident Heidi Benzonelli (pictured right) tells us how the playground changed everything:
We had a dream—to turn an abandoned public school site into a playground, a park, and a community center. Piece by piece, our dream is becoming reality.
The Jefferson Elementary School closed in 2005 and its facilities went into a state of blight. When it closed, officials took away the playground equipment, installed a chainlink fence around the schoolyard, and put up “No Trespassing” signs. But that didn’t stop kids from playing there. They used to crawl through the fence or pry the gates open to get in. There was no playground, but they were running around the schoolyard and playing with a huge truck tire.
The neighborhood rallied together and we were able to raise enough money and secure financing to obtain ownership of the property. The first thing we did was to open the gates, and the kids and all their brothers and sisters came pouring in. Then we started reaching out for grants and partnerships everywhere. We always knew what we wanted; what we didn’t realize is that if we just got started, the energy would build on itself. One day, kids were pushing a tire around the schoolyard and the next day, PG&E and KaBOOM! came forward with a grant for a new playground.
I can’t tell you what a difference the playground has made. It has been a magnet for everyone to come and bring their kids. Kids now know their neighbors—we’ve restored the community commons. Because they’re there, people rake the wood chips and pick up trash. The playground gives them an opportunity to be of service and give what they can give.
Before, we were having some problems with rival tagging and some of our younger teenagers getting involved in gang activity. A big problem was lack of options. They’d ask themselves, “What are we going to do today?” and then take the path of least resistance of what was available to them. Kids now have a beautiful playground, and what’s available is a place to come and play and be kids. We have no more graffiti, and we’re not seeing the younger kids involved in gang activity. The other thing that’s happened is the parents are stepping up and taking ownership. They’re saying, “This is OUR playground, this is a family thing going on here.” The people who were using the site because it was abandoned are gone – just through self-governance, not signs or rules or threats.
The playground has had an impact on kids of all ages. One of our volunteers has a little boy who’s about two, and before the playground there was no place for her to let him loose. He was always in the stroller. Now he comes to the playground every day—he climbs the climbing wall and goes all the way up to the top of the play structure.
Eureka's new playground has inspired community members to come forward and share their gifts, like teaching youth cooking classes. Photos courtesy of The Jefferson Project.
Some of our volunteers, including me, had never been involved in a big community project before. Once you get a taste of it, you want more. Now we’re working on transforming the North building of the school into a community event center and renovating three classrooms for all-age recreation, everything from infant toddlers to teens to older people. We are renovating the kitchen into a fully permitted commercial kitchen so we can provide healthy nutritious food at all of our events. Kids are getting addicted to fruits and vegetables! An organization called Bicycle Kitchen is teaching kids how to fix bikes, so we’re promoting the health and physical fitness of our community, as well as offsetting greenhouse gases.
Because we now have a volunteer base, when someone comes forward and wants to do something, BOOM! we’re doing it. A lady called recently and said, “Hey, my mom told me what’s going on down there and I’m a dietician. I’m here for a week and I’d like to teach a class.” We were able to email and call a few parents I met from the KaBOOM! build, and about nine kids showed up. Then a guy said he wanted to do a community drum circle, so we gave him the keys. We’re providing an opportunity for people to share their gifts.
We’ve done it. The gates are open. The kids are playing. The community has come together and is hungry to be of service. We’re succeeding. Thank you KaBOOM!.
Every day, we work to give kids in need a space where they can make lasting memories and lifetime friends. In doing so, we make our own friends and memories—with plenty of laughter along the way.
It is always gratifying to invest time and sweat into a project, and to see it through to fruition. But when when we look back, it's the moments we remember, moments when we made a new connection, or something was said that moved us or made us laugh.
Here are our 12 best moments of 2012. What were your best moments on the playground?
When disaster strikes, one of the most important things we can do for our children is give them time and space to play. In August 2012, KaBOOM! joined forces with the Kansas City Chiefs to build a playground in Joplin, Missouri, a community still reeling from the effects of the tornado that devastated the area 16 months prior.
When CJ Huff (above left), the Superintendent of Joplin Schools, recently visited the KaBOOM! headquarters, he talked to us about the many positive effects the playground had brought to the surrounding community. While kids’ talk about suicide had dramatically increased following the tornado, after the playground build, talk of suicide decreased. It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential.
"Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," CJ Huff said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."
In Elgin, Ill., a handful of volunteers were hard at work readying a site where we planned to build a playground the following day. One helper, local police Commander Glenn Theirault, ventured across the street to an abandoned house in hopes of finding an electrical source.
To Glenn’s surprise, he found that an 85-year-old woman named Dorothy lived there. The inside of her house was immaculate, but Dorothy had difficulty moving around and could no longer maintain the outside. She had tried to find help, but nothing came through. As they were talking, Glenn fell right through the rotted front porch!
Glenn came back on the playground build day with a crew of volunteers who built Dorothy a new front and back porch, cut her grass, cleared fallen trees, removed an old pool and trampoline, cleaned the gutters, painted the garage, and planted new landscaping. They unearthed Dorothy’s like-new riding lawnmower that she turned around and gave to a 16-year-old neighbor who is trying to start a lawn-mowing business. In return, he promised to keep her grass cut.
“I love to sit on my front porch and watch and hear the kids play at the park,” says Dorothy, who is incredibly grateful for everybody’s help. “With the new playground it is so colorful now!”
In November, our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond stepped down for a day so that the winners of our Little Artists contest, four-year-old Jake Bannister and six-year-old Helen Bartman, could assume the post. Their busy schedule included signing letters to our Board, running an all-staff meeting, testing out our Imagination Playground™ equipment, and leading a Senior Team huddle at our local playground.
Though Jake was initially a bit shy and overwhelmed, he and Helen became close colleagues after they had a chance to play. The above photo shows the two CEOs walking back from the playground as they strategize about effective kazoo-playing techniques. The moment was a moving testament to the power of play, reminding KaBOOM! staff of the importance of what we do.
Not everyone believes in the power of a playground—but some can be convinced. That’s what Jason Ellis learned when we partnered with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), The Washington Capitals Charities, and So Kids Can to build a playground in Alexandria, Va. Jason, who works at ARHA, found himself challenged by affluent neighbors who did not appreciate his community, much less the thought of a new playground there. Finally, one particularly vocal neighbor decided to meet with Jason and talk through his vision and his work with KaBOOM!. By the end of the meeting, she not only apologized for being unable to volunteer at the playground build, but she also handed Jason a check for $500!
Maybe only fools fall in love, but sometimes those fools are hardworking, mulch-shoveling volunteers. Kimmy Miller and Chris Ferry first met two years ago while volunteering at a playground build in Braddock, PA.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has since spoken at length about the impact of the playground in his town, which he refers to as the "Grand Central Station of Kidville." He notes that the community has taken an active role in not only maintaining the but also expanding the playground since its initial construction. That's why we KaBOOM! say, “It starts with a playground.” But now we’ll have to add marriage to our list of the many positive ripple effects a playground can set in motion. When we learned that Kimmy and Chris got engaged in December, we made sure to send some KaBOOM!-themed engagement presents their way. Rumor has it they will be wed on the playground.
In April, Nesbit Elementary School made KaBOOM! history by hosting the most volunteers ever on site for a single playground build, thanks to the generous sponsorship of DIRECTV. Over the course of one day, 840 volunteers hauled 530 cubic yards of engineered wood fiber and mixed over 80,000 pounds of concrete for the student-designed inclusive 10,000 square-foot playground.
During an amazing lunchtime performance by Nesbit students, Principal Clayborn Knight went on to make KaBOOM! history a second time by becoming the first principal to rap his gratitude for the new playground:
About eight months later, we were surprised yet again when we received 50 thank you cards (pictured above) that the kids worked on as part of a continued service learning project.
Not everyone welcomes teens at playgrounds—in fact, some go so far as to ban them. But downtown St. Louis neighbors Matt O’Leary and Kelly Kelsey were delighted when 40 teens arrived unexpectedly at the site of a future playground, asking how they could help.
Matt and Kelly had long wished that someone would do something about Lucas Park, which for years was littered with needles and trash, and 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 they got sick of waiting. Forming a nonprofit called Friends of Lucas Park, they applied for, and received, a KaBOOM! Let’s Play construction grant. They rallied their 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.
On Build Day, they expected about 60 volunteers, but ended up with a hundred. Alongside fellow community members, teens 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.”
Calgary mom Dana Wheatley wasn’t playing around when she took on our Summer Playground Challenge — to visit as many playgrounds with her kids as she could. Over the course of six weeks, she and her kids, Gordie (pictured above) and Nicole, explored a whopping total of 431 playgrounds! “Sometimes I wonder if we’re going to too many playgrounds, Gordie is acting like everything is a playground,” Dana mused while sharing a photo on her blog of Gordie trying to scale a glass railing at the Calgary Tower. But if there's one thing Dana has learned, it's that “there is no such thing as too many playgrounds.”
Improved sleep is one of the many benefits of outdoor play—beneficial for kids and parents alike. Dana experienced this benefit firsthand. Though three-year-old Gordie had been dropping his naps, she said, “we've been really wearing him out in the playgrounds so he's started napping most days again. [Recently] I told him that when we got home it would be time for his quiet time. He yelled, 'No! I want a nap!'"
Many school playgrounds are closed after hours, but that doesn't always stop kids from playing on them. Such was the case at William Penn Elementary School in the Playful City USA community of Bethlehem, Pa.
Some school administrators might have reacted by punishing the children for trespassing, but not Principal Nathan Stannard. Acutely aware that the kids in this low-income neighborhood needed a 'home playground' and had nowhere else to play, he championed the cause to make a formal agreement to open the playground to the public after hours. He hopes to inspire other school administrators to do the same.
A three-time Playful City USA honoree, Bethlehem received a Let's Play Joint Use Grant, with a goal of opening five school playgrounds to the public in 2012. Thanks in part to the support of school officials like Stannard, they opened nearly double that number. Now, children in nine communities enjoy evening and weekend access to playgrounds that were formerly off-limits.
Our hardworking Project Managers are constantly on the road and often participate in conference calls while waiting for flights at the airport. You need to talk quite loud to be heard on the phone at the airport, but apparently traveler Lena deMorais didn’t mind. She gave KaBOOM! staffer Kenny Altenburg the above note (left) while he was wrapping up a call.
Kenny didn't see who had given him the note, but after he boarded his plane, a young woman leaned across the aisle and said, "Thank you for buidling playgrounds for these kids."
The story doesn’t end there. Once they landed in Portland, Ore. Lena actually came to the playground build that Kenny was managing, with four other volunteers in tow. Alongside volunteers from Home Forward (Portland's Housing Authority) and our funding partner Humana, they spent over six hours mixing concrete, shoveling mulch, and assembling playground equipment.
It's always nice to get a firsthand reminder of why we do what we do. We all know that play has myriad physical, emotional, cognitive, and social benefits, but at its core, play is just plain FUN.
That's why, when the National Building Museum opened its amazing exhibit, PLAY WORK BUILD, we had to check it out. The exhibit features Imagination Playground™—those "awesome blue blocks" we all know and love, but also mini versions of the blocks, as well as a one-of-a-kind virtual block play experience.
The only experience more rewarding than playing ourselves is watching our own children play. Pictured above from left to right are daughters of our COO James Siegal, Software Engineer Lukas Eklund, and daughter of Sr. Manager of Online Content and Community Kerala Taylor. As an added bonus, Kerala reported that after playing with Imagination Playground™ blocks for over two hours, her 13-month-old proceeded to "sleep through the night for the first time EVER!"
Back in 2010, we worked with the Windsor Cove housing complex (formerly known as the Palms) in Orlando, Fla. to replace its decrepit playground. The community had been brought to its knees following a mass shooting in 2008, and many of the mothers who lived there were afraid to let their kids play outside. Windsor Cove resident and mother of three Yolanda Robinson told us, "You have people shooting and you have to think—well if I send my kids outside today they just might get shot."
When KaBOOM! staffer David Flanigan recently traveled to Windsor Cove to check in on the playground we had helped build there three years ago, he was hopeful but anxious. The last thing he wanted to find was an empty playground and parents still fearful of sending their children outside. He need not have worried. He found the playground crawling with kids and a community that, according to resident Melody Hills, "continued to talk to one another and come together, despite the challenges."
Melody told David that the mothers who were directly involved in the playground planning and building process moved toward self-sufficiency. "Four of the women gained employment, two went to school, and two moved out of the Palms Apartments Community," she said. "But, most of all, I will never forget the looks on the faces of the children when the playground was completed. That was priceless!"
In seven years of partnership, JetBlue and KaBOOM! have brought together over 3,600 volunteers to move 15 tractor trailers full of mulch and build 15 playgrounds which will serve more than 10,128 children.
In February, JetBlue customers were asked to vote for the location of the 15th JetBlue-KaBOOM! playground by voting on Facebook. In August, we worked together to build a playground in the winning city of Oakland with JetBlue TrueBlue members as volunteers. Coming up on October 9, JetBlue will hold its 4th Annual Swing for Good Golf Classic with KaBOOM! as one of the benefiting nonprofit partners.
We are looking forward to completing three more playground builds with our National Partner, JetBlue, before the end of 2013!
by Danielle Marshall, Director of Community Engagement
Our enemy isn’t a person. It doesn’t have a voice. It doesn’t jump out of the shadows.
But it’s an enemy nonetheless. It’s the Play Deficit. And it’s a real threat to our children.
Right now, an overwhelming majority of kids don’t have a safe place to play within walking distance of their home. Recess at school is on the chopping block across the country. And the public playspaces that do exist are often in disrepair.
We can’t let the Play Deficit hurt our children. We must let them play.
Children need play to grow into healthy adults, much as they need food, shelter, and love. Without play, kids fail to develop necessary skills like problem–solving, creativity, and perseverance.
Will you help KaBOOM! fight the Play Deficit? Be a part of our Spring Donor Drive and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the A. L. Mailman Foundation.
Our goal is 365 donors to help support our 50-state assault on the Play Deficit. You can help KaBOOM!:
Play is fun. But its loss is no laughing matter. Please help and let them play everyday.