Feature Article - August 2008
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Safety First

Proactive Approaches Prevent Problems

By Dana Carman

Rebuilding Playgrounds for All
Bringing Play Back to New Orleans

You can put all the best risk management resources in place—spend the money, hire the staff, prepare for disaster—but Mother Nature, for all her goodness, can deal the harshest—and final—blow. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped apart the Gulf Coast in 2005, and cities are still rebuilding.

But with so much devastation, how could anyone be thinking about building playgrounds?

In December 2005, KaBOOM! led its first community-build playground project in the regions affected by the hurricane as part of Operation Playground—an initiative to build 100 playgrounds in the areas hardest hit by the storms.

"When we announced our intention to launch Operation Playground, people said, 'That's crazy, they don't need playgrounds,'" said Sarah Pinsky, director of Operation Playground. "We did stop to consider that. But when we talked to those in the Gulf Coast, those who were displaced, they said, 'We need playgrounds. We need some place for our kids to go and be kids, where they can have fun and be safe and interact with other kids.'"

Key to the concept is the term "community build." While the playgrounds may seem like they're just for kids, it's also the adults who benefit—both from the sense of community building it provides and the sense of normalcy that watching children play on it represents.

"All of our projects start with the kids," Pinsky said. "All KaBOOM! projects are designed by kids, planned by community members and built by community members in one day."

Through sponsor partnerships with sponsors, the organization has directed $8.2 million into the Gulf Coast region and mobilized more than 21,000 volunteers and just recently completed that 100th playground, as promised.

"We're not leaving the Gulf Coast now that we've hit our goal," Pinsky said. Two more playgrounds were slated for the area just before press time, and projects are scheduled through December. "There's ongoing need, and more communities are coming along and getting stronger," Pinsky said.

In the wake of unimaginable devastation, rays of hope shine brightly. Playgrounds built by communities still struggling to recover and filled with the sounds of children's laughter are one such ray of hope. "I think what happened in the Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita—the strong desire to have parks and playgrounds—it's a great testament to the importance parks and playgrounds play in communities," Pinsky said.

To learn more about how you can help or get your community involved, visit www.kaboom.org.