PHOENIX – Playgrounds are an iconic part of childhood that help create lasting memories and build social skills. Research by Kaboom, a national organization that seeks to eliminate “play space inequity,” shows that kids from lower socioeconomic groups and communities of color are more likely to lack a decent place to play.
“Play space iniquity has deep roots in racism, disinvestment, redlining and real estate community exclusion,” said Iyana Moore, associate director of strategic communications at Kaboom, which partners with local schools and businesses to build playgrounds in areas where access to playgrounds has been historically limited.
“What’s true for one kid should be true for all kids. Every kid should have access to quality play spaces close to where they live and where they learn,” Moore said. “It’s important to feel a sense of belonging and a level of safety at these spaces, and inclusion plays a big role in that.”
Kaboom partners communities with parents and local businesses to help fund the playground projects. Depending on how much money the partners are able to raise, Kaboom matches it and asks for a small donation from the school.
Loma Linda School in the Creighton School District is the latest to benefit from Kaboom’s mission. A Title I school near 20th Street and Clarendon Avenue, its older students only had a field and a basketball court to play on during recess.
Loma Linda Principal Amy Burgess applied for a grant from Kaboom last year for her school’s fifth- through eighth-grade students. The closest playground to the school is about 2 miles away and children would need to cross State Route 51 to access it.
“I grew up like a lot of our students,” she said. “My family was very far below the poverty line and my mom was a single mom raising four kids. That’s why I work in the community that I do. Because where I’m at in my life and my success was due to teachers who cared about me and kept me from doing things I shouldn’t have.”
Kaboom partnered Loma Linda with Fairytale Brownies to build the playground. Arizona-based Fairytale Brownies co-founders Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz met on their kindergarten playground when they were children, so Kaboom was a perfect way for them to do good for a cause that is sentimental to them, Spitalny said.
One of the most unique aspects of the playground process is that the students get to provide their input into the design and features of the build. In art classes at Loma Linda, students were given a map to design their dream playground. From there, designs were pitched to Burgess, then some students were selected to share their designs with Kaboom and Fairytale Brownies.
“I like building designs, and I do it all the time because my dad’s an architect,” said Daniel Chiago, a fifth grader. “Before I knew it, I turned my paper in to Principal Burgess and then we had a meeting after school where we voted on what parts of my design should be on the playground.”
Part of the design process included a wall of photos featuring different play designs. The kids had the opportunity to choose which photos they liked and determine which designs were most important for them. The options included a variety of slides, zip line features, swings, climbing walls and more. The students even got to choose the color for the playground structures.
“Even though the kids seemed nervous, these things are so important,” Spitalny said. “These are the steps you take to see an end goal of a project. The skills that they are learning are really helpful for them as future leaders.”
After hearing the kids’ design ideas and meeting with them in December, Bicki Rudd, a project manager at Kaboom, got to work. A two-month planning period is used to make sure everything from funding to supplies is in order before the Kaboom team comes to the school.
Along with Kaboom and Fairytale Brownies, the school also had to raise money to build the playground. The school held “dress-down days” where students could dress in comfy non-uniform clothes and had an online fundraiser where people in the community could donate.
Following the planning period, there were two days of preparation where volunteers and workers dug holes and leveled the surface where the playground was to be built.
Organizers and volunteers showed up Feb. 23 to complete the project. Volunteers came for a variety of reasons, but most came to see smiles on the kids’ faces as the play area became real. Each class was allowed to come out during the day to thank workers and encourage them to keep building. One volunteer, Juan Vela, came to support the cause.
“Children are the heart of our future so it’s always good for them to have a better upbringing than some of us who didn’t have that opportunity,” Vela said. “Coming from an impoverished neighborhood, knowing I could make a change, why not come out here and help?”
As the day went on and the kids came to check on the progress, volunteers could hear sounds of excitement coming from the kids, many of whom screamed, “That’s my design!”
The children also made signs to thank the volunteers. Within the school, they held a competition to see which classroom could bring the most water bottles for volunteers. The winning class was awarded the first 30 minutes of play on the new equipment.
“I think the playground will make everyone closer,” said Serena Robinson, a fifth grader at Loma Linda. “More people will talk and since nobody is super close to each other at recess now because we are all spread out, it will be better because we have a place to be together. It will make everyone better friends.”
Kaboom has helped fund 90 playgrounds in Arizona since 1999, and 17,000 throughout the country.
Its next project in Arizona is at AZ Compass Prep School in Chandler. Working with Salt River Project and Fiesta Bowl Charities, Kaboom expects 100 volunteers will come together to build a 2,500-square-foot playground.