KaBOOM! – Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play

In Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play, Psychology Today columnist Peter Gray asked his readers to help him develop a proposal to build a neighborhood play and learning center “that could serve as a model that communities everywhere might emulate”. I said I’d help, and after putting in a few hours, recommended that he check out KaBOOM!, a nonprofit founded by Darell Hammond, who studied under John Kretzmann, Director of the Assets Based Community Development Institute (ABCD Insitute) at Northwestern University.

A 2008 study authored by Deborah Puntenney found that “when implemented appropriately, the KaBOOM! Community-Build process creates a lasting impact on the communities it partners with, both in terms of building capacity, enhancing community pride and cultivating leadership, as well as enhancing the play experience of neighborhood children.” Dr. Puntenney’s researchers conducted site visits and telephone interviews with 110 playspace builders, and reported that:

  • Nearly 100% believe that their KaBOOM! playground positively impacted the quality and quantity of children’s play
  • 94% believe that their playground project helped strengthen relationships among neighborhood residents and among community partners
  • 91% said that the KaBOOM! Community Build model and tools work

The KaBOOM! model (Road Map) comprises eight steps:

  1. KaBOOM! Road MapResearch – Why play matters, the “community-build model,” benefits of a community build model, play equipment appropriate for specific ages, abilities, and types of play, playground safety hazards in old equipment, make the case for a new, community-built playground.
  2. Conceive – Create a project vision and mission statement, form a planning committee, choose a playground site, choose a surfacing and equipment vendor, estimate the project budget, establish a project timeline, create a fundraising strategy.
  3. Organize – Organize and hold the first playspace meeting, start fundraising, finalize planning committee teams, determine the necessary site preparation, create a project website.
  4. Design – Holding a Design Day, working with an equipment vendor to select a design, press materials and media involvement, accelerating youth involvement through the Design Day and service learning projects.
  5. Coordinate – Recruiting Build Day volunteers and captains, creating a contingency plan for bad weather and emergencies, mapping the build site and the Build Day “matrix,” creating a maintenance plan with the landowner and staff, leveling the site and removing old equipment.
  6. Energize – Planning final fundraisers, writing and sending out a media advisory to notify local newspapers, radio, and TV stations, ordering side project materials, confirming delivery schedule for equipment and surfacing, training build day captains.
  7. Build – Equipment and surfacing delivery, organizing materials one to two days before the Build Day, motivating volunteers, rehearsing the ribbon cutting ceremony, taking pictures of the site and securing the area.
  8. Maintain – Sending official thanks you’s, starting your maintenance program, hosting a final planning meeting, supervising, playing and enjoying, RALLY!-ing for play.

The website’s toolkit provides resources (including samples) for every step on the map, including pre-planning, community involvement, volunteer recruitment, fundraising,  construction, and maintenance.

KaBOOM! also provides free online training, and a Project Planner: a free website that aims to help you plan each step of your project, communicate with your team, recruit local volunteers, raise money, get free advice from the professional playground builders at KaBOOM!, and connect you to a community of people like you who are building playspaces around the country.

KaBOOM! Project Planner

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