KaBOOM! It starts with a playground. . .

What is KaBOOM!KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding and creating play spaces within walking distance for every child, has embarked on a nationwide mission to help communities build playspaces. This proves critical for those many children living in neighborhoods without playgrounds or playspaces, or unable to use existing ones because of rundown conditions or dangerous neighborhoods.

Innumerable times, the local playground became a haven for me when my little kids were bouncing off the walls at home. Fresh air and a safe, fun area where kids could let loose and release all of their boundless energy often proved a sanity saver! KaBOOM! believes that play has a purpose and unstructured play in particular helps make children happier, fitter, smarter, more socially adept and creative. So how can we help make this a reality for kids in less fortunate neighborhoods?

Mom Central has teamed up with KaBOOM! to help map online 100,000 playspaces in 100 days. Here’s what counts as a playspace: a playground, field, a skate park, roller hockey rink, lake, dog park, community center, basketball court or ice rink – any place where kids can engage in unstructured play for free or a nominal fee. A playspace listing on KaBOOM! consists of an address or cross street and a description, one photo and one rating.

green works lineKaBOOM! has made creating this playspace listing easy: either a quick fill-in on their website or even easier – a twitpic from your cellphone.

For every play space entered into the KaBOOM! database on behalf of the Mom Central team, $1 will be donated to Jumpstart, a non-profit that brings at-risk preschool children and caring adults together to improve literacy. It’s something to feel doubly good about!

Moreover, we all stand to benefit as all the playspaces with their photos and ratings will be available to us as we go on road trips this spring and summer, to visit relatives, or on vacation. You can go online and find cool places to take your kids to play- near Grandma’s, the hotel, or off the highway to break up a long drive.


A Call to Action
In August 1995, shortly after moving to Washington, D.C., 24-year-old Darell Hammond read a story in the Washington Post about two local children who suffocated while playing in an abandoned car because they didn’t have anywhere else to play. Darell, who had previously helped build several playgrounds for other organizations, realized this tragedy could have been prevented. The passion was born, the idea was conceived.

A Formative Childhood
Darell feels very fortunate because he was lucky enough to have had a great place to play growing up. Darell and his eight brothers and sisters grew up at Mooseheart: The Child City and School, a group home outside of Chicago. Mooseheart is 100 percent funded by the generosity of members of Moose International. Darell was provided with a wonderful childhood and has fond memories of skipping rocks and climbing on the Mooseheart playground. In addition to providing a loving and stable home, the Men and Women of the Moose showed Darell the difference volunteers can make in a child’s life.

Finding a Calling
After graduating high school, Darell attended Ripon College in Wisconsin. It was during his freshman year there that he built his first playground-pitching in to help a friend’s mother who was an active community volunteer. Although he never finished college, after studying politics and government, Darell participated in an Urban Studies Fellowship in Chicago through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

While in Chicago, Darell studied under Dr. John ‘Jody’ Kretzmann, Director of the Assets Based Community Development Institute (ABCD Insitute) at Northwestern University. The philosophy of Assets Based Community Development was an epiphany for Darell. Jody became Darell’s mentor and the construct of the ABCD Institute would become the foundation of the KaBOOM! community-build model, which mobilizes struggling communities using resourcgreen works linees already at hand and shows them how to work toward positive change.

In 1994, Darell helped lead the inaugural year of City Year in Chicago. Darell was then selected by City Year to relocate to Columbus, Ohio, to plan and lead the service project component of City Year’s first national conference, CYZYGY. Under Darell’s leadership, 600 City Year volunteers built two playgrounds and more than 500 community volunteers joined the incredible day of service. Watching the volunteers take on their challenges in a fun and productive way, Darell realized that with organization, leadership, and minimal training, communities could make huge improvements to their neighborhoods and their lives.

It Starts with a Playground
And so it was in the summer of 1995, when Darell read the article about the two children who died because they didn’t have anywhere to play, he knew he had to act. As luck would have it, Darell and his friend Dawn Hutchison had been contacted by Youth Service America to plan and lead a day of service. They instantly knew they’d build a playground. Although not yet under the KaBOOM! name, that first KaBOOM! community playground build took place in October 1995, at Livingston Manor in southeast Washington, D.C. With ‘honorary project manager’ seven-year-old Ashley Brodie helping every step of the way, Darell and Dawn mobilized the disparate community to come together and act on behalf of its youngest residents. Funded by The Home Depot and Minkoff Company Inc., the build lasted five days and involved more than 500 volunteers. The project was covered in the Washington Post and Darell wrote an article about it for Guideposts magazine. The article was later published in the book Stone Soup for the World.

Knowing they had tapped into something powerful, Darell and Dawn incorporated KaBOOM! in April 1996 with help from Suzanne Apple, who was the Director of Community Affairs for The Home Depot. Kimberly-Clark signed on as the first official Funding Partner for KaBOOM! as a way to celebrate their 125th anniversary.

Building Momentum
The more people heard about the mission of our fledgling non­profit, the more they wanted to get involved. Vice President Al Gore and General Colin Powell helped KaBOOM! launch the LET US PLAY campaign in 1997 to build, renovate or provide technical assistance to develop 1,000 community-built playgrounds by the year 2000. Also in 1997, Kimberly-Clark partnered with KaBOOM! to build 38 playgrounds and CNA signed on as a new corporate partner. By 1999, KaBOOM! was building more than 50 playgrounds a year with seven Funding Partners.

New Ways to Play and Inspire
In the early years, the KaBOOM! vision was focused only on playgrounds and community building. Then, in 2003 we recognized that there was a need for safe places where older children could skateboard, inline skate and BMX bike. Boomer Dan Casey led the program development while Julie Cipriani created the logo, look and feel to make ESKAL8, our national skatepark program, a reality. Using the same innovative community-build model used for playgrounds, the first ESKAL8 skatepark was built with Snapple in Norwich, N.Y. on April 26, 2003. More skateparks soon followed in San Antonio, the Bronx, and Atlanta. Although no longer under the ESKAL8 name, KaBOOM! continues to build skateparks across the country and, with the help of Boomers David Flanigan, Whitney Hampton, Melanie Barnes and Jen DeMelo, have even added ice rinks and athletic field renovations to the list of playspaces we’ve created.

In 2004, we realized that in order to achieve our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child, we needed to get more playgrounds built, but how? Instead of opening chapters and affiliates like other non-profits, KaBOOM! decided to empower communities on a larger scale to build playgrounds on their own without our direct oversight. To do this, we decided to give away our knowledge and experience to anyone who wanted it through our Toolkits, trainings and technical assistance. That year, we enhanced the curriculum and added depth and diversity to our training session known as the University of Play (U Play! for short) with a revamped training in Kansas City. In the years that followed, we began to offer one day Workshops Entirely on Play (WE Play! for short), and a completely revised KaBOOM! Toolkit.

To reach even more people with our tools and resources, KaBOOM! also put our Toolkit online, giving everyone the resources they need to fundraise, organize and plan a community playground on their own. With funding from the Omidyar Network we built an online community that supported the cause of play, and created forums where users could post their own experiences and knowledge to help guide one another through the process of building a playground. These online communities are a valuable source of information and inspiration because they’re full of thousands of champions who share what they do to help their communities become more playful.

It was a very exciting time for the organization as our programming, partnerships and exposure grew. In July 2005, KaBOOM! and The Home Depot announced an unprecedented $25 million partnership to build or refurbish 1,000 playgrounds in 1,000 days. The groundbreaking partnership included playground, sports field and ice rink projects, as well as challenge and improvement grants.

Operation Playground
Several months later, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed the country’s Gulf Coast region, in December 2005, KaBOOM! launched Operation Playground, an initiative to build 100 playgrounds in areas affected by the storms. Operation Playground was designed to restore a sense of community and provide safe and fun places for children to play in Gulf Coast towns trying to rebuild. First Lady Laura Bush demonstrated her support for Operation Playground by attending our playground build at Hancock North Central Elementary in Kiln, Miss. in January 2006.

The KaBOOM! National Campaign for Play
While we had been rallying individuals to support the cause of play for years, in 2007 we decided to give these efforts a unified name, and so the KaBOOM! National Campaign for Play was born. To give the campaign resonance on both an individual and governmental level, we instituted two new initiatives. To rally individuals for the cause of play, we created the Playmaker Network. Members of this community receive specific calls to action as well as training opportunities to help them achieve results on a grass-roots level. To make sure our Playmakers are heard by their local governments, we launched the Playful City USA recognition program, which honors the efforts of cities who create a city-wide agenda on play. Our 31 founding Playful City USA communities represented both small and large cities across the nation who shared their ideas and innovations on how to make every city more playful.

A Leader in the Field
Today, KaBOOM! is recognized as a leader among social entrepreneurial organizations and Darell has become a well-known spokesperson for the cause of play. KaBOOM! and Darell have won numerous awards for national service, innovation and leadership. We are best known, though, for our playful and professional staff, the outstanding corporate partners we have mobilized, the community organizations we have inspired, the advocates we’ve created, the communities we’ve connected and the millions of children who now have great places to play. We continue to find innovative ways to rally communities and individuals who share their experiences and support one another for the cause of play. This type of mass action will mobilize communities from coast to coast to work to ensure that every child has a great place to play within walking distance.

The KaBOOM!erang PrincipleThe Law of Incredible Returns

Time. Advice. Heart. Money. Sweat Equity.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid, parent, community leader or businessperson — whatever you put into KaBOOM!, it always comes back to you. That’s because of the KaBOOM!erang Principle. It’s our law of incredible returns.

What you do today can mean changed lives, stronger communities and brighter futures tomorrow.

Do it for the kids. Do it to make a difference.

KaBOOM!. It starts with a playground.

The KaBOOM! Theory of Change

If you can picture it, you can believe it. If you can believe it, you can build it.

Picture a diverse group of volunteers collaborating to achieve the simple goal of building a playspace in one day for children. Picture communities across the country tapping into KaBOOM! planning tools and leveraging the collaborative support of corporate and community resources to achieve an immediate and visible for their neighborhood. If you can picture it, you can believe it. If you can believe it, you can build it. That is the KaBOOM! Theory of Change.

The KaBOOM! Theory of Change is built upon the belief that the process of organizing a community-build playspace is as important as the product: the playspace itself. There are three pillars that support our Theory of Change:

  • Collective Cause: Like teammates on a sport team striving to win a game, a diverse group of volunteers use their different skills to collaborate and achieve the straightforward and simple goal of building a playspace in one day for the universal cause of children’s well-being.
  • Achievable Wins: Community development research has shown that an important step in community empowerment is to achieve a small, probable “win.” A community group that has successfully built a new playground or skatepark is more likely to believe they can individually and collectively make a difference. And they are more likely to act on future community needs.
  • Cascading Steps of Courage: Small steps of courage lead to greater acts of courage. Researchers have explored what has caused people to take significant courageous actions to benefit others, and one of the leading factors for such acts was the presence of small, civically minded steps early on in life, which helped shape personal values and, over time, progressed to greater civically-minded acts.

Collectively, these pillars help KaBOOM! activate powerful citizenship.

KaBOOM! believes that, together, we can achieve it by pursuing smaller common goals: a playground, skatepark or field complex, toward collective causes the well-being of children, a one day build (that results in achievable wins), all through the small, yet courageous act of volunteering. This is how KaBOOM! activates powerful citizenship.



One thought on “KaBOOM! It starts with a playground. . .

  1. Hi. Nice post. Pitching in to provide safe places for kids to hang out and play is definitely something we can all feel good about.

    Anne sent us a story a while back about her involvement in getting a new playground built in her hometown — it was a real “aha moment” when she realized how much the project meant to her AND the kids. I thought you and your readers might enjoy it.

    Hope you like it. Have a great day.
    mike@ahamoment.com / mutual of omaha

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