Serving the children
Children in Wooster, Ohio have it. Children in Grenchen, Switzerland have it too. As do children in New Zealand, Poland, Brazil, Australia, and China. In fact, children all over the world have it.
What is "it?" The urge to play. Right now, on playgrounds everywhere, children are running, giggling, sliding down poles, and climbing up rock walls. Some are swinging, some are jumping, and all are having the time of their lives.
The urge to play is universal. To get out in the fresh air and run around whether alone or with newfound friends is felt from Austria to Zimbabwe. But sadly, countless children have nowhere to go to exert their boundless energy. They don't know the feeling of independence that comes when you let go of the monkey bars and dangle from your knees, upside down, for a whole new view of the world.
Kiwanis clubs throughout the world have long worked to change that, through their community service emphasis-Serving the Children of the World. Many Kiwanians have made it their mission to bring safe play to children in neighborhoods, towns, cities, villages, schools, zoos, shelters, and hospitals anywhere and everywhere. And their work, much like the children they do it for, is growing by leaps and bounds.
When a young mother in Elba, Ala. realized there was no safe place for her child to play in town, she knew exactly what to do. She went straight to the Kiwanis Club of Elba to ask if the members would build a playground and they did.
We had no idea what we were getting into, admits club member Nell Gilmer. The club had not been in existence very long, and funds were limited. In fact, "We had absolutely nothing in the bank," Nell recalls.
But they pulled it off. And the result is a towering playground - made from a special material that needs little-to-no maintenance which is complete with everything a child would want. How did they do it?
"We built on property donated by the city," Nell says. "The old high school had to be torn down, but we left the front entrance. That now serves as the gateway to the park."
Aside from donated land, Nell says the contribution of volunteers' time helped most. The playground became a community project in which everyone wanted to be a part.
"All the money raised to build this came from our area, along with grants from the Alabama Kiwanis Foundation and the Kiwanis International Foundation," she says. "Army personnel came out and helped. Businesses allowed employees to take time off to help build. Churches helped by cooking meals. A bank had tables with refreshments."
"It was so great. Most of our club members helped build, and those who didn't build helped fundraise. We had a playground designer, 150 to 200 volunteers, and professional builders too. This project brought so many people together. And we had our grand opening only five days after we began building!"
For a relatively new club to pull off a project that in the end will cost more than US$150,000, is no small feat for sure. Creative fundraising projects proved to be quite a success. Three family-owned businesses gave $10,000 or more. The club sold handprint tiles and pickets that featured donors' names. It staged golf events, an auction, a picnic, and sold tickets for a huge holiday basket giveaway. And maybe the most popular fundraiser of all: a playground equipment sale. The club put a price on each piece of equipment, and donors could purchase equipment and have their names placed on plaques on the pieces they purchased. The results were unbelievable, Nell says.
"We built this for the children of Elba who didn't have a safe place to play," she says. "The schoolchildren were asked to name the playground, and they chose 'Tiger Town Park.' The four children who submitted the name - they got to play on the playground first.
And maybe the biggest nod of approval came from the mayor of Elba, Nell says.
"The mayor said, 'I had no idea it was going to look like that!'"
Mount Olive, New Jersy
Playing is good for the mind as well as the body, but kids don't know that. In fact, they don't care. To them, playing is just fun it doesn't have to be good for them.
But young children, special-needs children, and children of low-income families who visit the Mt. Olive Child Care and Learning Center in Northwestern New Jersey get fit while having fun due to the Kiwanis Club of Mount Olive Township's Project KOALA, the Kiwanis Outdoor Active Learning Area.
Project KOALA, according to the club's website, builds physical abilities such as strength and stamina, encourages social and emotional skills, stimulates verbal expression and emerging language aptitude, fosters good self-esteem and self-confidence, promotes experiencing new challenges and problem solving, cultivates learning about and appreciating nature, facilitates the exploration of new concepts through using the five senses, develops positive attitudes toward health and fitness, and will support the intellectual development of an estimated 2,500-3,000 children over the next 20 years.
Whew. And the kids thought they were just playing.
That all sounds great, but can one playground accomplish so much? Well, there's the Learning Lab (for education), a climber with safety loops (emphasizes exercise and safety), the KBP 4 Wheeler (emphasizes social skills and imagination), a tunnel (for exercise), and a Tic-Tac-Toe panel (emphasizes cooperative play education, and social skills).
"Fortunately, the Center's executive director provided a tour of all the components while the children were still inside the building, said club president Brian Siegelwax, because once the children were outside, I didn't see one component not in use! The kids were safely exercising and learning and socializing, yet they probably didn't even realize it since they were having so much fun."
The project, one of many for the Kiwanis club, was made possible, in part, by a US$5,000 grant from the Kiwanis International Foundation.
Taking on a playground project?
Here s what you need to do
- Develop a plan.
- Ask questions.
- Keep good records.
- Always keep your committee members informed.
- Remember, the overall success of the project will involve the entire membership of your club.
-Advice from Rob Ralston, Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent Golden K
Courtesy of Kiwanis Magazine
Kiwanians in Wooster, Ohio, have had as much fun providing play areas for children as the children have had playing on them. That's probably why they built not one, not two, but several playgrounds, in addition to rehabbing a few others.
It's obviously a project close to Kiwanians' hearts.
"This started in 1991 with a large project in Christmas Run Park, building not only a playground but a pavilion as well," says Jim Collier, club president. "This was followed by playgrounds at Freedlander Park, Knight's Field, Shellin Park, and a ball field project.
"It all started because one of our members was the director of parks and recreation for the city and approached the club about helping with the playgrounds. It has been all successes since then."
But this isn't all the club has planned for playground projects. In fact, this year the club intends to develop two more.
Why such a focus on playgrounds?
"First, because they directly affect children," says Jim. "They provide healthful exercise and a safe place for recreation for children of all socio-economic groups.
"Second, because 'We Build!' and we really like getting our hands and hearts into our work."
"And third, because it increases camaraderie and unity within our club."
Orleans, Ontario, Canada
When members of the Kiwanis Club of Orleans, Ontario, decided to build a mega playground, they went straight to the experts: kids.
The club began by staging a design workshop where more than 60 kids worked with the contractor to design the playground. The results were mind-boggling.
The playground, which is accessible to all children ages 2 to 12, is 10 times the size of the average community play structure, Orleans Kiwanians report. It has two large-scale play structures: a 30-foot-high Parliament building-themed structure, complete with a three-story tower, and two 15-foot enclosed slides. It also has a 24-foot-long pirate ship with climbing structures, corkscrew climbers, a jungle net, a rock wall, and periscopes.
A project this huge - the "Kiwanis Adventure Playground" is touted as the largest in the city - can only come to life with a lot of hard work and a huge community effort.
"Once the decision was made [to create the playground], we immediately began various fundraising projects to raise our objective of $125,000, and then we got an unexpected break," says Kiwanian Harley Bloom. "The municipality had a large amount of funds slated specifically for recreational purposes, and we successfully bid for $325,000. This moved the project ahead by one light year, and allowed us to expand the scope of our original plans."
While safety regulations and local bylaws slowed the project a bit, Orleans Kiwanians stuck with it through thick and thin.
"Undaunted, we persevered, and some four years after funding approval, we finally put shovel to ground and invited more than 150 volunteers to help finish the project," Harley says. "It took more than seven years from conception to finish, but Orleans Kiwanians are thrilled with the result: a playground designed by the kidsand for the kids.
"It is absolutely amazing to see kids all over the structure," says Harley. "The club is proud to have brought such a fantastic project to our community and permanently establish Kiwanis as a recognized entity in our area."
Codur D' Alene, Idaho
As children in Coeur d Alene, Idaho, climb on the giant fire helmet, slide down the fireman's pole, or "ride" in a replica police car or toy motorcycle, they probably know little, if anything, of the tragedy that sparked the idea for the playground.
More than 40 members from two Kiwanis clubs - Idaho Panhandle, Coeur d' Alene and Coeur d' Alene - came together to create the Cherry Hill 9-11 Memorial Playground to honor the emergency services personnel and everyone who lost their lives in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The idea was generated from discussions between the two clubs and the city when the Kiwanians were looking for a hands-on project that would involve the membership and provide something useful for the community," says Doug Eastwood, Coeur d' Alene parks director and past president of the Idaho Panhandle Kiwanis club. "The suggestion (for an emergency theme) took root and soon became a theme-type playground.
The fire helmet is 17 feet high and was designed to be an oversized replica of a firefighter's helmet," Doug says. A playground manufacturer also created a fire truck, a police car, and toy motorcycles. More plans are in the works to add a granite monument describing the events of Sept. 11.
"The results exceeded everyone's expectations, including mine," Doug says. The [granite memorial] will recognize the tragedy of 9-11 and will host a piece of the World Trade Center, which will be embedded in a granite column. This will serve as a meditation area with benches and a fountain, and will also list the emergency services personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty."
By selling engraved fence pickets, the club raised funds for the project, and each club donated US$20,000 and volunteers to finish the project.
"The city now has a highly visible memorial to the 9-11 event, and it is used heavily by kids and their parents from all around the region," Doug says. "The playground has become a destination location due to its uniqueness and size."
A playground dedication near the fifth anniversary of the 2001 attacks discarded the idea of a traditional ribbon cutting in favor of a more poignant ceremony.
"Several local and regional fire and police personnel raised a flag that had flown over the World Trade Center," Doug says. "It was a great day for Kiwanis and the community."
Grenchen, Untershachen, Switzerland
For schoolchildren in Unterschachen, nestled in the Alps of central Switzerland, it is almost impossible to go home during lunch because for most of them, home is too far away to make the round trip.
But through the collaborative efforts of the municipality and the Kiwanis Club of Grenchen, children have a place to go for their lunch break - a safe, fun place to get exercise, run, laugh, and hang out with friends.
"The community has been planning a children's playground for the past 25 years," says Grenchen Kiwanian Stefan Ruchti. "As a financially weak community, the money is primarily used for the prevention of avalanches or floodings. So plans for a playground were postponed every time."
But in 2005, the club worked with the local councilor on ideas for projects that promise long-lasting benefits to children. In February 2006, the club approved a detailed project to build a children's playground. The project kicked off in June and took two weeks to complete.
"Every day, at least five to six - and during the weekends, about 11 or 12 Kiwanis friends were working on site," Stefan says. "It was also nice to have two or three persons every day helping out on behalf of the community. For our club, it was also very important and motivating to be able to work, talk, and spend some time together."
Almost 40 Kiwanians put in 600 hours of work over 12 days, paying quite a bit of attention to the details. Wood chips were strewn on the ground to prevent injuries from falls, reports the Grenchen club on its website. Sod was brought in to complete the look there was little patience to let grass grow on its own, as the residents were eager to use the facilities.
"The children didn't have a playground until now," Stefan says. "Many children had only seen playgrounds on television but never had the possibility to experience one themselves."
Keep kids safe
Here are 10 important tips for parents and community groups to keep in mind to help ensure playground safety. These tips are available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
- Check that protective surfacing extends at least six feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.
- Check for dangerous hardware, like open "S" hooks or protruding bolt ends.
- Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
- Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
- Look out for tripping hazards, such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.
- Make sure elevated surfaces, such as platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
- Check playgrounds regularly to ensure equipment and surfacing is in good condition.
- Carefully supervise children on playgrounds to make sure they're safe.
Courtesy ofKiwanis Magazine
When Tallahassee-Killearn Kiwanis Club member Charley Esher started to really think about it, it all seemed to add up. The club had extra, unbudgeted funds. Charley had information about various other Kiwanis Clubs and their work with playgrounds. And the relationship between the Kiwanis Club and the Gretchen Everhart School already was established. In fact, Kiwanians had worked with the school for at least 20 years. So, Charley thought, why not work with the school to update its playground?
The school created a wish list, which resulted in a bid of US$14,228 for new playground equipment, plus $500 for lumber and mulch. The Killearn board committed $5,000 for the project and received a matching grant from the Florida Kiwanis Foundation and $4,700 from the Kiwanis International Foundation.
Killearn Kiwanians volunteered many hours to the project, but they weren't the only ones on the site. The Leon County Sheriff's Department Work Camp (LCSD), headed by LCSD Captain and Killearn Kiwanis Club president Tommy Mills, devoted numerous hours preparing the site, mulch, and assembling and installing the new equipment.
"We'd never have gotten it done by ourselves," Charles Walter, publicity chairman for the group, was quoted in an article published in the Tallahassee Democrat. "Many of us are older guys, and we can't do that heavy, heavy stuff anymore."
Why do you like to play?
"Because it’s fun, and fun to play with mom and dad. It’s good for your body."
-Jocelyn, Age 7
Savoy, Mass., USA
"Because I can play with my friends and practice BMX on the awesome track."
-Galani, age 13
"Playing is fun, satisfying, and I make friends."
-Putra, age 12
"I don’t know. I just do!"
-Taryn, Age 10
New Brighton, Penn., USA
"Why do we eat? We have to."
-Atteh, age 8
Old Ningo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, West Africa
"For fun, to make time pass, and to dodge work at home."
-Galani, age 13
Chatham, Ontario, Canada
When Kiwanians in Chatham, Ontario, decided to rejuvenate a playground/park, it didn't take long for the excitement to catch on.
The Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent Golden K teamed with Home Depot, KaBoom!, and the municipality to update the most-used park in its town. June 1, 2006, was dubbed "Build Day" in Chatham, and it attracted quite a crowd.
More than 200 volunteers showed up to help make the dream become reality for children in Chatham, but the project proved especially sweet to Kiwanians.
"Golden K was involved in the whole process, including the preparations, such as counting all nuts and bolts," says Kiwanian Elizabeth "Liz" Dorner. "They registered volunteers, provided refreshments, spent the entire day with spouses and friends, put together equipment, and acted as assembly team captains.
Kiwanian Rob Ralston kept the project alive, spending many hours communicating with partners through letters and phone calls.
"It was the club's decision to enter into a project of this magnitude, and as coordinator, I counted on the talents of our members to make the process easier," says Rob. "I traveled to watch similar playgrounds being constructed and learned from their experiences. Overall, the project was exhausting, but the end result was rewarding."
The playground located in Kingston Park, features swings, teeter-totters, slides, climbing walls, and basketball equipment. Children submitted drawings to help design the playround, and those who participated in Design Day were given a t-shirt and framed certicate.
From young to old, it seems everyone turned up to do his part.
"Local press and radio personalities not only took notes for their stories," Liz says, "but some even pitched in and lent a helping hand."
Kiwanians from every corner of the world are working together to bring safe playgrounds to communities. And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the universal language of play: the giggles of millions of happy children.
Editor's Note: Kiwanis Magazine has offered this feature as a special playground section in its July issue and has shared it with the Today's Playground readership to enjoy the great work Kiwanins are doing to bring safe play to children in every corner of the world.