a playground at last

Three little girls sat on a bench yesterday evening pointing at each new piece of playground equipment. “I’m going to play on that one, and I’m going to play on that one, and I’m going to play on that one.” As concrete footings were drying volunteers had to remind neighborhood kids that the playground wouldn’t be open until this morning.

Through the many surveys conducted in Baptist Town over the past ten years, residents have consistently emphasized the need for activities for children, specifically a playground. Despite this, when I began my job in January, no funding for a playground was in place. That changed when I met Cyndi Long from a local office of GE Capital Aviation Services. We began to work together, and she supported our grant application to the GE Volunteer Foundation. Cyndi and her co-workers were flexible and creative, and joined us in leading a kid’s only community meeting in April to brainstorm with neighborhood kids what they most wanted in the playground. As a result, we won a grant from the GE Volunteer Foundation for $4,000, and the local GECAS branch sponsored approximately $3,500 in play equipment and supplies. A crew of GE volunteers to construct the park was also a part of the grant award.

8 AM from south

Yesterday, twenty-eight volunteers from GECAS, including Greenwood residents and many who drove down from Memphis, brought to life what had previously only existed on paper. Starting with swings and bouncers on a grassy site in the morning, the group wrapped up the day with a completed playground by evening. When I visited the site this morning, the three little girls were true to their word – playing on every piece of equipment we had installed. In the short time I visited today, a dozen kids jumped, slid, climbed and see sawed. I know this demographic is enjoying the result of this project, but the realization of something so long asked for seems important to the community as a whole. “Hopeful” is a word I have heard a lot in regard to the playground project. I am honored to be a part of something hopeful, and am looking forward to GOODat day on Saturday where we continue to celebrate the people of Baptist Town of all ages.

I am grateful to so many people for realizing this playground. As I continue to work in the field of social impact design, each project demonstrates that nothing is completed by an individual, but is the product of many collaborators. Obviously, GE and Cyndi played huge roles, but whether you drove a truck, lent a wheelbarrow, lent a hand, wrote about the day, or enjoy hanging up-side-down from the monkeybars: thank you, this would not have happened without you.

a meeting without an agenda

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Those of us working in the field of social impact design attempt to enhance neighborhoods, introduce design where it is lacking, and reduce social and economic inequities. Though fellows work hard to serve the public and engage communities, the road to realize projects is often rocky, with the interests of various groups and individuals coming into conflict with each other, the project, or the way in which it is being implemented.

In recent weeks, local politics threw a road block in the way of the housing portion of the Baptist Town neighborhood revitalization project in Greenwood, Mississippi . The road block may have been posturing or it may have been the result of poor communication, but in either case, mud was slung and tempers rose over a deed issue. Diplomacy eventually won out, and the project only suffered slight delays. In the midst of navigating this sensitive situation, a community meeting unlike any I had previously experienced was a refreshing reminder of the big picture goals of this neighborhood wide project.

The Kids Only Community meeting on April 20th involved chalk, markers and imaginations. Neighborhood kids were invited to the playground (currently a basketball court, swings and a few spring rockers), to share their ideas of what could exist on the site. Slides and monkey bars were top recommendations, but we also asked students how this park could incorporate their favorite subject in school (The overwhelming response was math!). Project H’s LearningLandscapes served as a great precedent that allowed both the kids and the adults who helped collect feedback understand how a playground could be a fun and active space, while providing opportunities for learning and fit within a limited budget.

We collected dozens of drawings and photographed the chalk art that spread across the basketball court throughout the meeting. Kids were excited to share their ideas, especially when we asked them to dream up things they hadn’t seen before. An addition to the swing set that would make it look like a dragon, an unlimited supply of sidewalk chalk, and hills to roll down were just a few of the ideas we took away.

Though this playground is a smaller scale and less contentious project than the twenty-six home affordable housing effort that is taking place a block away, the enthusiasm and flexibility that the kids of Baptist Town shared with me on Saturday will be a reminder of the best way to approach future challenges as they arise.

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