Uvalde: Community Healing Through Community Service

December 20, 2022

After the unthinkable tragedy at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 the City of Uvalde, KABOOM!, and the Archewell Foundation to joined together to unite the community in a positive way. Learn more about how Uvalde is healing through community service.

In October, the City of Uvalde opened its arms to KABOOM! and the Archewell Foundation to join them in their quest to unite the community in a positive way after the unthinkable tragedy at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022. The community members, including some of those most deeply impacted by the tragedy, wanted an opportunity to come together and heal through the creation of a vibrant space that honors the many lives lost. For KABOOM!, our goal was to provide a place to play while kids and their families look for ways to begin healing through a sense of normalcy and moments of joy.

As we embarked on the path to understanding the needs and desires of the community, what developed was a deep connection steeped in trust and a shared desire to give the kids and the community a much-needed place for joy. Jen DeMelo, Vice President, Organizational Innovation & Strategic Partnerships was one of the first from our organization to visit Uvalde in preparation for the playground build. From that first trip, and the many that followed, Jen understood the mark this project would make:

“It’s fair to say this is one of the most special projects I’ve ever worked on because of the meaning behind it,” she starts. “We often say that each playground is special, but I think the process is incredibly important. Uvalde is a perfect example where the process is empowering, providing hope, and a place where people feel like they belong.”

KABOOM! CEO, Lysa Ratliff also spent considerable time in Uvalde leading up to the playground project, connecting with families and working with city and community leaders. Lysa and community member Laura Garza quickly established a close bond that reflects the kind of genuine relationships KABOOM! has been able to form with the City of Uvalde through trust and transparency.

Lysa, Jen, and Melanie Barnes, Associate Director, Playspace Innovation Design & Construction with Laura’s family in front of the playground’s memorial banner

Lysa, Jen, and Melanie Barnes, Associate Director, Playspace Innovation Design & Construction with Laura’s family in front of the playground’s memorial banner.

As a leader on the playground planning committee and aunt of Amerie Jo, 10, who was lost in the tragedy, Laura first became involved in the DeLeon Park project during the design day at Progreso Library in August. Weeks later, during build day, as the playground began to take shape behind them, Lysa and Laura reflected on their experiences and what the new space will mean for Uvalde.

Laura started by telling us more about the Uvalde community:

“Uvalde is a small town, a very small, close-knit community, basically like family. Everybody knows everybody. A big part of Uvalde is sports, the kids are really into sports, but I think everything about our town has kind of been overshadowed by the May 24 tragedy.

I think this playground is a great way to bring something else to our town other than just thinking and talking about what happened. It’s a good way to bring the community together and bring some happiness and it feels good to have everybody together in a different way.

And everyone is excited about it, but I don’t think everyone understands it’s going to be a big playground! A place for the kids and families to gather and have fun - this is something we don’t have anywhere in Uvalde.”

group picture in front of completed playground in Uvalde Texas

All smiles after a successful playground build.

Lysa then shared her experience working very closely with the community members in Uvalde:

“These trips to Uvalde have been life-changing for me. Mostly because I’ve met people who feel like family, like Laura. I’ve never been more moved by the love, resiliency, and power that exists within a community. Every time I’ve visited Uvalde, I’ve returned home knowing that my light can shine brighter because a piece of them is with me. Experiencing all that resides in the Uvalde community is a gift that I will hold close forever.

All KABOOM! hopes to do is be a facilitator of what’s possible, lifting up the power and possibilities that already exist in the community. The bonus has been that we’ve developed connections with each other that will last a lifetime. For me, it’s been the most important work I’ve ever done in my life. It’s not work, it’s love. It’s coming together in love for the most precious of us, our kids.”

Laura also expressed her feelings on the last few months in Uvalde, and while her grief is ever-present, there’s a great deal of hope that she and others feel as they try to move forward by doing something to support kids:

“The reality of what happened is extremely difficult to process. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. But I will say that being a part of this project makes me feel like I have a greater purpose other than just being a family member of a child involved in the May 24 tragedy.

It’s hard for the community to move forward, and it’s going to be like this for a while. As parents and adults, we want to do anything we can to bring light to the kids and healing to the families and community who has lost so much. The space we’ve built is special. Experiencing the joy of the kids who are out here having a good time and excited about the new playground is everything. I don’t think I’ve seen the community come together to do anything like this even before the tragedy, so this is really special to us. Every day is one step at a time, and I think this is a good day.

And I know there’s still more to come. We want the beauty of those we lost to be with us forever and so we will continue to build in their name. We also realize we need to do all we can to protect and heal the kids in our community who are still affected by this. We are full of hope for all the healing that can take place if we come together in ways that center our kids.”

As the conversation winded down, Lysa revealed how KABOOM!’s relationship with the City of Uvalde began, and what’s ahead:

“We all watched in horror at what happened here on May 24. As an organization that is focused solely on the protection of childhood and creating spaces that are special for them, all we could think about was doing whatever we could to support the community as they work toward healing. We centered love in our approach, ensuring our only agenda was to amplify theirs. And I know for me personally, it was really thinking about how KABOOM!, an organization that brings people together, could focus on creating space for kids and families to play and heal. I’ve experienced the transformative power of love in action. If there was any path, any future for KABOOM! to be able to support, I wanted this community to know that their family extended beyond the borders of Uvalde.

When we got a call from the Archewell Foundation, who shared a sense of urgency to help this community, I knew that we would do whatever it takes to support them, as long as the community felt like they wanted our support. The work has been transformative. We’ve come together to build a kid-inspired playground and want it to be just the beginning of what can be accomplished from coming together.”

James Holt, Executive Director of Archewell Foundation helps volunteers to place the playground signage.

James Holt, Executive Director of Archewell Foundation helps volunteers to place the playground signage.

KABOOM! is an organization that addresses playspace equity at scale. After considerable work with City and community leaders who shared a desire to do even more for kids across Uvalde, KABOOM! looked at the playspaces across the community and identified the need for an additional 12 new playspaces. Historically, this community has not had the resources to keep up with the playspace needs, but with a small and focused investment, KABOOM! knew the problem could be solved. In response, we have issued an urgent call for support to raise the necessary funding to complete the remaining projects. We are hopeful that others share our commitment to a community that needs us, and kids who are counting on us.

The DeLeon Park project is just the beginning of a deep-rooted commitment to the Uvalde community as they begin to heal and recover from the tragedy. Together, we will focus on building more playspaces to ensure every kid has a joyful place to play. KABOOM! is committed to working with diverse partners in bold new ways to end playspace inequity in Uvalde and breaking down barriers to create the transformational change needed for the kids. Our partnership with the Archewell Foundation on this project and its groundswell of support shows what is possible when partners and communities come together to address the needs of kids and promote rebuilding and community healing.

And we are just getting started.