Neighbors work together for the cause of play
Using his index finger, 10-year-old Jermon Palmer slowly traces a path across his pencil-and-crayon design of a “perfect” playground—starting with a green light at the gate telling children it’s OK to enter and play.
“Then comes the monkey bars and a tunnel,” says Jermon, a fourth-grader at Thomasville Heights Elementary School in Atlanta. “You climb up the stairs and go down the slide, then follow the red and yellow brick road to the swings!”
Jermon was among a dozen children in the Thomasville Heights neighborhood to contribute ideas for a playground built last September on his school’s campus. His mother, Keisha Robinson, joined nearly 300 volunteers in work clothes and gloves one Saturday to turn the youngsters’ visions into reality.
“The kids really needed somewhere to play,” says Robinson, 37, who grew up in Thomasville Heights, where she is raising five sons.
Historically, parents such as Robinson discouraged their children from playing outside in their neighborhood, which is located between a landfill and a prison. “There’s been a lot of shooting, lots of violence and gangs,” explains Quanda Gary, 37, the school’s physical education and wellness coordinator.
The school campus is the exception, shining as a beacon of hope for residents and providing a safety zone for children. Those factors helped convince KaBOOM!, a pioneer in community-built playgrounds, to support the school’s campaign for a much-needed outdoor play area.
“We had a piece of an old climbing structure, and that’s what the kids had to play on during recess,” Gary says about the rusting monkey bars and crumbling concrete slab that served as the school’s playground for more than a dozen years.
Neglected playgrounds are unacceptable to Darell Hammond, 40, founder of KaBOOM!, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to creating fun, safe play spaces within walking distance of every child in America.
“Play is not a luxury; it’s an absolute necessity,” Hammond says. “For the youngest kids, play is an opportunity to experience joy, suspense and all things creative. It’s what helps us become well-rounded as adults.”
Hammond founded KaBOOM! at age 25, after reading a Washington Post article in 1995 about two children who suffocated while playing in an abandoned car in their low-income, inner-city neighborhood that lacked a playground.
Adamant that every child deserves a safe place to play, Hammond took the community-organizing skills he learned while working in Chicago and went door-to-door in the Wheeler Trace neighborhood, rallying support for a playground. Wheeler Trace neighbors united to raise money and volunteers—a process that became the prototype for KaBOOM! playgrounds.
“At several points it looked like the whole thing would be stalled,” Hammond says of the inaugural project, “but in the end it was an amazing accomplishment, especially the part where these residents could look back and say: ‘We did that!’”
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