Providing opportunities for equitable and safe playspaces in rural communities
KaBOOM! and The Colorado Health Foundation have partnered together since 2013 to create more than 20 custom playspaces in rural communities across Colorado. The Foundation believes that keeping equity at the heart of their work leads to better health, which aligns with the vision of KaBOOM! to ensure that all kids and communities have equitable access to play. Play is essential to a kid's physical, cognitive, social and emotional development, but too often these benefits are out of reach because access to play can be determined by factors like zip code or family income. The partners collaborating on this project are committed to helping address these disparities so that every kid in Colorado can reap the benefits of play.
Over the past five years, several Colorado community organizations have received playspace grants from the Foundation and KaBOOM!, resulting in 20 places where kids can explore, learn and grow. These community organizations include Las Animas County Fairgrounds, the Town of Crestone, Yuma County Head Start, Kit Carson School District R-1, the Community Foundation of the San Luis Valley, Fox Farm HOA, and the Town of Dolores (among others).
Many rural communities in Colorado face budgetary challenges which result in limited access to playspaces. Through the KaBOOM! and Foundation partnership, kids and adults are getting more opportunities to play, allowing them to lead healthier and more active lives. Part of the beauty of this partnership is that each community is able to select the playspace that will best address their unique needs, be it playgrounds reaching kids 2-12 or Adventure Courses that bring fun and challenging play opportunities to kids ages 13 and older.
Below are a just a few highlights of the impact these playspaces have had on rural communities in Colorado and how communities are coming together to ensure kids are safe, healthy, and engaging in active fun.
Public funding for schools
Property taxes, especially in Colorado, are the primary source of funding for local governments, and public schools. Sixty cents of every dollar collected in property tax revenue is earmarked for public school funding. But by nature, rural towns have fewer residents, fewer homes and thus, there's significantly less funding available for public schools. This has led to many schools and districts, especially those in rural communities, having to scale back on the time allotted for the school day and eliminate play areas and recess from their daily schedules and budget.
In fact, about 74% of Colorado's smallest, rural public school districts operate on a 4-day week schedule in order to cut costs. Other school districts decrease costs by permanently closing schools. Due to their decreasing budget, Wray School District RD-2, located in Yuma County in Northeast Colorado, is on a 4-day schedule, and are in the process of consolidating all of their grade levels into one building.
Staff and supporters of the school district worked hard to canvass their neighborhood and get a bond measure passed to fund the integration of the head start, elementary, middle school, and high school building.
For most families, Head Start is the only place their kid can have access to a playground especially since 24% of their students are in foster care or experiencing homelessness. In addition to the equipment being outdated, it was also not age-appropriate for students ages two to five.
A grant awarded through the Foundation and KaBOOM! helped the school take on the site preparation costs to remove their old playground and create a space for their new, community-designed playground. Kids and families in the school district now have access to an engaging and fun playspace that will help ensure play is widely accessible.
Health & fitness resources
Beyond underfunded public schools and local governments, rural communities in Colorado like Las Animas County can also be isolated from health resources such as fitness equipment and mental health counselors. In remote locations like Las Animas, kid-friendly activities are difficult to access. The local fairgrounds are one exception.
Besides their past as a historical mining region, Las Animas County is also known for their large fairgrounds, a site for numerous family-friendly events throughout the year and serve as a kind of community hub. With two playgrounds for younger kids, the fairgrounds are the most accessible place for kids to play in the community. Despite this valuable asset, opportunities for older youth to play are almost nonexistent.
As one student mentioned, “we have a lot of free time after school but not much to do.” To residents of Las Animas community, filling this free time with something constructive, safe and engaging is especially important for rural communities.
The fairgrounds were in need of a safe space where teens could gather, be social, and exercise. The Foundation and KaBOOM! partnered with Las Animas County to address this need by building an Adventure Course, an obstacle course-like experience for older kids and teens. This course is not only providing a location for teens to build community and spend time with friends, but it is also serves as a fun way for teens to focus on their health and fitness, in the absence of many health resources in the community.
Providing safe spaces for families
Antonito, Colorado is located in Conejos County, which has been negatively impacted by the opioid epidemic in recent years. As a result of the epidemic, 61% of the students are being raised by a grandparent or other relative. Kids and families in the community were in need of a positive space where they could play.
The Community Foundation of the San Luis Valley and Antonito Together partnered with the Foundation and KaBOOM!, to build a playspace. This space is located in the middle of a residential area and on the same grounds as the new Town Hall. Residents are excited for the possibility of creating a playspace that will help kids grow and play in a safe and collaborative environment as they escape the terrible effects of the opioid epidemic.
Additionally, Antonito residents are very excited to weave murals into their project and provide a space that inspires kids to be creative and participate in the arts.
Each story provides a snapshot of the impact that KaBOOM! and the Foundation have had in Colorado's rural communities. We are invested in creating great places to play in neighborhoods experiencing disinvestment, and together, we will continue to imagine and build playspaces that have a transformative impact where there is the greatest need.