Working across sectors to support kids’ mental and physical health

October 11, 2022

Learn more about our steps to strengthening the mental and physical health of children, families, and communities.

Earlier this year, our CEO Lysa Ratliff provided input during the public comment period to the White House as they were developing the newly unveiled five-point national strategy on hunger, nutrition, and health. She shared the connection between nutrition, our work to end playspace inequity, and kids’ long-term health. Simply put, without affordable and proper nutrition, kids can’t enjoy the benefits of quality places to play. But physical activity and nutrition aren’t the only factors affecting our kids’ health. When looking at kids’ well-being, we need to examine the whole child – physical and mental.

KABOOM! is committed to supporting kids' wholistic health and acting with urgency to strengthen the mental and physical health of children, families, and communities. Two important steps toward achieving that occurred recently. First, the Biden-Harris Administration hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health – the first of its kind in more than 50 years. With sessions on farming, accessibility, physical activity, and research, President Biden encouraged participants to work collaboratively – across sectors and fields – to drive solutions to the health challenges we face.

As part of the conference, Lysa was invited to moderate a panel on promoting children’s lifelong health through physical activity in schools and communities. She spoke with Catherine Grano, a school nurse; Jermaine Harris, a community policing sergeant; and Ann Marie Krautheim, CEO of GENYOUth about barriers to physical activity and access to quality opportunities for play.

One way of removing these and other obstacles to physical activity that panel participants discussed is creating spaces that foster a sense of belonging – core to our work at KABOOM!.

“When kids feel like they belong, when they have role models that look like them, and when they are engaged in dialogue, they are more likely to be involved in sports, play, and other activities. That's why KABOOM!, engages communities in our process. It’s about building trust, ownership, and planting the seeds that are going to spark into better opportunities for kids in the long run.” Lysa Ratliff

Then the next day, KABOOM! convened U.S. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, and Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises for a listening session at Park Heights Academy in Baltimore. Students, parents, and faculty gathered to share the value of playspaces and recreation in their lives and how critical they are for mental health.

“Playgrounds profoundly impact our young people: they’re a place to sharpen skills that will serve them for a lifetime, build friendships, and feel a sense of belonging,” said Mayor Brandon Scott earlier this year.

The listening session was part of our 25 in 5 Initiative work in Baltimore, where we are working with Baltimore Recreation and Parks Department and Baltimore City Public Schools, with support from the Mayor, to ensure every child has a place to play where they live and learn across the city.
Listening Event with Second Gentleman

After the event, Mayor Scott challenged the kids to a race at a playground KABOOM! and the community built at the school three years prior with the Baltimore Ravens. Mayor Scott remains undefeated!

“Play is as essential for mental health as it is for the physical health of our kids, especially in the last couple of years, which have been really stressful for our kids and their parents. We’ve got to do everything we can to reinvest in the mental health of our children and one of those steps is making play part of our kids’ day.” Dr. Murthy

Our mission to end playspace inequity is urgent. To make immediate and long-lasting impacts on our kids’ mental and physical health, we must be innovative and work boldly with partners across public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. It will take a systems-level approach to address these historical inequities and shift public and private resources to the people in communities who have experienced disinvestment. Playspace equity is achievable in our lifetimes, and it is necessary to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their greatest potential.

Together, we can work boldly to end playspace inequity for good.