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 on the Board of our local Community Development Corporation in my town - The Colony - in Texas. In my position I get to help direct tax payer dollars to community enrichment and recreation projects - like parks, trails and playgrounds. I had always viewed this as a big responsibility, which I took very seriously. When we were installing new playgrounds I would be sure to inspect each one - did we get all the parts we paid for? Was it installed correctly? Is it well-lit? Was there any graffiti on the equipment? I viewed my role in a very utilitarian light.
Then, one summer afternoon, everything changed. I brought my grandson, Jace, to see one of the new playgrounds we'd just installed. While Jace was playing I sat down on a bench and started watching the other kids on the playground that day - four 10 year old boys. In front of my eyes I watched PLAY happen. One boy yelled to the other 'I need you on the bridge, Captain!' and others were working to make the ship 'space bound' from the 'engine room.'
In that moment I saw the creativity emerge from these boys. I fully understood the vital importance of PLAY in a way I never had before. Everything about what my role was on the CDC Board changed - from not only being a guardian of tax payer money but to being a guardian of play also. I went back to my fellow Board members and explained what I had witnessed and experienced. Encouraged by a new passion and determination I believe our entire Board has embraced the importance of what we do for our community in a stronger way and all the projects we work on in the future.
I also found a new understanding of my community when I wrote our city's Playful City USA application. This new understanding of PLAY has truly changed the work I do for my community. Our Play Task Force hosted an entire month of Play in September - playTC! Month. Hundreds of people experienced new adventures and opportunities to play in The Colony."
– Lisa Leary, The Colony, TX
Lisa discovered the importance of PLAY and used that new-found passion and determination to help make her entire community more playful.
Play it forward to keep helping people like Lisa discover the importance of 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.
"I got involved with KaBOOM! through an employee at our local YMCA. I feel that providing a safe place for the kids in the community is a great idea. I am a grandparent of 7 boys and all they do is video games or baseball.
By having a place where they can play, it will get them some much needed exercise. Becoming a volunteer is a rewarding experience because you know you helped build a safe place for families to their kids to play.
I also met many wonderful people who took their time out of their job or household chores to come and build a fun place. It was fun with music, laughter and a joy to see the kids playing on their new playground."
– Leopold Chapa, Baytown, TX
Play it forward with a donation today if you’ve ever had a great experience on a KaBOOM! Build Day like Leo.
On March 11th, 2011, KaBOOM!, the Cedar Crest Community Center and Dr Pepper Snapple Group built a great new place to play in Dallas. The group of seniors that helped prep and serve food were ecstatic to help out with a project. When you're a senior, you don't get called to help that much and they were overjoyed to be such an important part of Build Day.
Play it forward with a donation today so we can keep engaging volunteers of all ages across the country.