StoriesLifting Teen Voices in Rochester, NY

Community Engagement Yields Pride in a New Playspace

By KABOOM! | November 15, 2021

The new adventure course at Rochester’s Grand Avenue Park is brightly-colored, consisting of parkour-inspired equipment like climbing ropes and walls, cargo nets, and obstacle courses. Before, says Kayshawna, age 14, there were no recreation options designed specifically with teens in mind.

“I wanted to see more things … more kids active on the playground,” said Kayshawna. Her mother, Sasha, encouraged her to get involved in a committee of youth leaders that would help plan and build a new gathering place for Rochester’s teenagers.

Kayshawna and thirteen of her peers came together to drive the design of the new adventure course and to reach out to community members for input. Their own priorities and aspirations for their neighborhood are reflected by personal touches in the space, including the lime green color of the equipment and play options like musical instruments intended to include kids of multiple ages. The final product was the culmination of approximately 80 hours of the teen leaders’ hard work, from hosting pop-up events at Grand Avenue Park to going door-to-door, ultimately collecting design input from more than 400 community members.

For Kayshawna, participating in the process as a teen leader was an exciting way to get involved in her community. Now, when she visits Grand Avenue Park, she knows that her voice made a positive difference for other kids in her neighborhood.

“What makes me most happy is just seeing kids on the playground enjoying themselves,” said Kayshawna. “That made my day, it really did. I helped.”

Connecting to Community Goals

The adventure course is the result of collaboration between municipal and nonprofit organizations, including Common Ground Health, Connected Communities, ROC the Future, the City of Rochester, KABOOM!, and StriveTogether. By coming together to address playspace inequity in Rochester, partners knew they could support community-defined goals such as fostering teen leadership.

Common Ground Health previously led a mapping project that identified “play deserts” across Rochester with concentrations of kids growing up without access to a playground, park or recreation center within a quarter of a mile walking distance. By pairing this data with insights from city departments, their staff, youth-serving organizations and, most importantly, local parents and kids, KABOOM! and partners selected Grand Avenue Park in the Beechwood neighborhood for a playspace targeted to teens and older youth.

“We learned in all of that assessment work that playspaces often don’t offer things that teens are interested in. This adventure course was a way to address that problem,” said Hannah Shippee, Program Coordinator for Common Ground Health.

The teen-centric adventure course would offer a safe place for young people to get active, socialize with their friends, and feel like they belong. And it would be important to include input from teens along the way – to ensure that the adventure course represented their own wants and needs, and to help youth cultivate their own leadership skills. By encouraging learning and leadership skills, both the new playspace and the engagement process would align with existing community priorities, such as ROC the Future’s goal of improving high school graduation rates across the city.

“We look at the young person as a whole individual,” said Jackie Campbell, Alliance Director, ROC the Future. “We want them to enjoy the outdoors, socialize, and do adventurous activities – but it’s really about supporting them in their development toward young adulthood. This provides a space for that in their community.”

Building Community Cohesion

Engaging teens was crucial to create a space they would be truly excited to use, but also to build trust and collaboration with young community members, creating a more cohesive community in the long-term.

“Every time they come to play at this park they can say, I designed this, I helped make this come to fruition, and I think that really instills a sense of ownership and pride in people,” said Rachel Betts, Community Project Manager for Connected Communities.

This collective sense of pride and excitement around the new adventure course could act as a launching pad for future projects that continue to address playspace inequity across Rochester, according to Sara Scott, Director of Recreation & Parks Stewardship for the City of Rochester.

“There was a lot done during this project to make sure that the community voice, especially youth voice was heard,” said Scott. “And I think this just sets the standard for what this could look like as we implement this in other neighborhoods.”

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