Hundreds of volunteers channeled their inner children today by coming to Imagine Southeast Charter School in Washington,D.C., to help build the 2,000 playground constructed by KaBOOM!, a nonprofit dedicated to saving play.
Knight funds KaBOOM! as an innovative way of engaging residents in communities. As Knight program director Damian Thorman wrote in a blog post earlier today, "this is what engaging communities is all about. I can't wait to see the students and the community members come together today to build their community, and I can't wait to see what else they will do in the future as a result of feeling empowered to act."
It came more naturally for some than for others—the participants included dozens of Imagine Southeast students from pre-K to grade 3, who took an immediate liking to their new playground. Also present were the older but equally excited First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and several members of Congress and their families.
"This is a very cool experience. I've known and worked with KaBOOM! long before I was First Lady," said Michelle Obama. "To see this organization grow as it has, impacting so many schools, so many communities, so many young people—it's really a source of pride to be here today for the 2,000 build."
The word of the day was "play": its absence in too many communities across the country; its importance to child health, education, and civic life; and the potential for its resurgence through the playgrounds built by KaBOOM!
"Play is on the decline in the United States," said KaBOOM! founder Darell Hammond. "Kids are getting less and less of it, both in recess and in access to playgrounds. The work we did today is giving kids back their childhood and a sense of wonder, joy, and fun."
As Mrs. Obama and Secretary Duncan spoke to the assembled volunteers, community members from homes and shops near the school came outside to watch from thestreet beyond the Secret Service barricades.
"You see the pride these neighbors across the street have for what you're doing. This playground is going to be spotless for a long time, and that doesn't usually happen," said Duncan.
After brief remarks, the secretary and first lady joined other volunteers in assembling playhouses, slides, and a rock-climbing wall. As it was with other volunteers and will be with the kids who enjoy the playground in the years to come, the spirit of play was infectious.
"I'm going to mix concrete. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to mix concrete," said Mrs. Obama.
"This is fun," said Secretary Duncan. "I get to get out of my suit and have fun for the day."
The playground, which did not exist 24 hours ago, will open for play tomorrow. Said Principal Stacey Scott: "Our kids will be extra blessed when they get back to school tomorrow."
Chris Sopher is a 2011 Media Innovation intern at Knight Foundation.