Someone set fire to the playground matting at G.H. Reid Elementary School last summer. The fire spread around the equipment, melting and disfiguring most of it, and leaving the 750 Richmond, Virginia public school children with few options for outdoor play.

But when bad things happen, good people often start showing up to help. Hundreds of volunteers from various Richmond organizations, including Children Incorporated, stepped up to help out last November.

But when bad things happen, good people often start showing up to help.

Together, they rebuilt the playground in just one day.

Community support

Renée Kube, director of U.S. Programs for Children Incorporated, explained that the project was led by KaBoom, a national nonprofit that builds playgrounds, especially in low-income areas.

“We had been told by our volunteer coordinator at the school that funding had been secured from KaBoom,” she said. “But KaBoom requires community buy-in — additional community funding and also hands-on help — so what they really needed from us was warm bodies to come and work all day.”

They also needed maintenance funding, and Children Incorporated pledged to provide that as well.

A one-of-a-kind design

But it was the children who designed the playground, which was based on ideas and drawings submitted by students at the school. Because the children created their own ideas and voted on what they wanted, the Reid Elementary School playground is one-of-a-kind.


The playground under construction

The CarMax Foundation and KaBoom put in most of the upfront money and materials, and on November 3rd, Kube turned up to work, along with her Children Incorporated co-workers, Shelley Oxenham, U.S. Programs Specialist, and Chuck Smith, U.S. Sponsorship Manager.

They were among about 250 volunteers who built the playground from the ground up in just one day. One of the jobs Kube, Oxenham, and Smith were tasked with was painting maps and game boards onto the playground surface.

A global concern

They painted maps of the United States and of the world, a hopscotch board, and other game lines on the blacktop. Fortunately, Kube said, they didn’t have to be experts on global geography in order to get the maps down.

“KaBoom sent people out the day before to plan out where things would go,” she said. “They decided where to put the monkey bars and swings, and they drew out the outline of the maps for us.”

When the work team arrived on November 3rd, they painted the maps, after some redesign.

“One of the volunteers looked at the map of the world and said, ‘That’s not right,’” Kube recounted. “He was Dutch, and he said that part was wrong – so we said, ‘Okay, you’re in charge of Scandinavia.’”

They also needed maintenance funding, and Children Incorporated pledged to provide that as well.

An enthusiastic audience

In addition to the playground, the team built a swing set, a giant Connect 4 board, and a trellis with a bench and cubbies. They also painted the maps and blacktop games, and repainted the lines on the basketball court. They cleared out a garden area, and removed trash and debris from the site.

While the volunteers worked, the children tried – mostly without success – to concentrate in their classes.

“It was tremendously exciting,” Kube said. “The kids were peeking out the windows to watch it going up, and at the end of the day, they were leaning out of the school buses, looking at this new equipment so longingly.”

“They had to wait several days for the concrete to set before they could use their new playground, but since then, it’s been well-used and appreciated,” Kube said.

Ongoing maintenance

Our staff members Renée, Shelley and Chuck

The heavy use the playground will get is one of the things Children Incorporated has pledged to keep up with. With 750 children running across its surfaces every day, the paint won’t hold up forever – and neither will the mulch spread around it.

Children Incorporated will provide funding to repaint and re-mulch the playground as needed – and they may even provide the manpower, too, Kube said.

“We just built it in November, so maintenance is not an issue yet,” she said. “They’ll look at it at the end of the school year and see what needs to be done. We will definitely be providing funding for mulch and maintenance – and, if needed, we’ll be doing the work ourselves.”

Other community groups may put in the physical labor too, Kube said. One church in the area said they couldn’t raise maintenance funds but could provide volunteers to help spread mulch once Children Incorporated purchases it. The paint job may go the same way.

“We want to keep it attractive, and we want to keep it safe,” Kube said.



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