July 30, 2010

A tale of two cities: Play deficit close to home

Shelley Schumaker CallicoOur Park-A-Day Summer Challenger Shelley Schumaker Callico (at left, with her daughter) visited one park this week that gave her pause. Its stunning level of disrepair stood in stark contrast to many of the parks she has visited so far in the metro Atlanta area. Here's Shelley:

Last weekend, my daughter and I helped our church with a community service project at a local mobile home community that is just a mile from our church. This part of Marietta/Kennesaw has been identified as one of the neediest areas in the county by our local community service organizations.

I was struck by the lack of access to play facilities and the condition of the existing “equipment” in the mobile home park. The ground was covered with broken glass from beer bottles, which my daughter was trying to pick up and collect, since she’d never seen anything like it. The basketball hoop did not have a net and the court was also covered with glass. The old pipe-style swing posts were still there, but the swings were long gone. There was still a single pipe monkey bar that reached up to the sky, but I never saw a single kid go near it.

A big field offered absolutely no shade anywhere. It was very very hot, but a bunch of kids and parents still came out to the family fun day for the free hotdog cook-out and bouncy castle/slide that we brought out. We also brought relay games, face paints, and soccer balls. The kids did not necessarily need equipment to have fun… they just needed each other and a ball. They needed the interaction of other teen and adult facilitators to create a relay or game. They needed other kids to challenge them to try something new. They needed a tree to climb to get a new perspective on life.

Many of the children in this community do not have access to transportation, or their families only have one vehicle, leaving mom or another caregiver at home. The unemployment rate in our county has now topped the national average, and the economic situation is difficult for many households. Many of the residents also face steep linguistic and cultural barriers to finding places to play. Public transportation is limited or not available in many areas.

The town I live in, by contrast, is an affluent suburb of metro Atlanta. Within just a few miles of this mobile home community are multi-million dollar homes. While I have lamented that there’s not a playground within walking distance of my house, I can afford to drive to the playgrounds that are six or more miles away.

On Day 24 of the Park-A-Day Summer Challenge, this “playground” visit was an eye-opener, exposing a different side of my community that I had never seen before.

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summer challenge, park-a-day kaboom! summer challenge, play desert