The Rapidian

Amway + KaBOOM! = new playground for D.A. Blodgett-St. John's

On June 8th, three organizations join forces to construct a playground for the kids of D.A. Blodgett-St. John's.
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D.A. Blodgett-St. John's kids hard at work drawing their dream playgrounds. They will see their ideas become reality on June 8.

D.A. Blodgett-St. John's kids hard at work drawing their dream playgrounds. They will see their ideas become reality on June 8. /Maria Filice

The finished product

The finished product /Maria Filice

This dinosaur ridden drawing is just one of the playgrounds dreamed upon Design Day.

This dinosaur ridden drawing is just one of the playgrounds dreamed upon Design Day. /Maria Filice

Kaboom is usually the noise heard when something falls down, but not in the case of KaBOOM! a national nonprofit that builds playgrounds in an effort to save play. Their goal is to create a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. On June 8, 2012, 200 Amway employees will walk off the manufacturing line and join KaBOOM on the campus of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s with this dream in mind.

Amway’s One by One Campaign for Children creates local partnerships to address issues facing children worldwide and to improve the way they live, learn, achieve and play. Since the partnership began in 2007, Amway and KaBOOM! have joined together to build 13 playgrounds, nine of which are in the Grand Rapids area. Together, these two organizations will construct a playground in just one day.

“When Amway and KaBOOM! partner for playground projects, one of the most important factors we take into account when identifying a site for a playground is the overall need,” said KaBOOM! Communications Manager Mike Vietti.

D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s provides a variety of services for families and children such as foster care, adoption, counseling, therapy and mentoring. In addition, the St. John’s campus, where the playground will be built, offers residential treatment and emergency shelter care for children.

“In the case of D.A. Blodgett-St. John's Home, it’s an absolutely terrific organization that plays a critical role in serving the Grand Rapids community, but they do not currently have a playground for the 500-plus children they serve every year," said Vietti.

In order to construct a playground in just one day, months of preparing and planning happens prior to the build, both by adults and kids.

“It’s absolutely critical to ask the children what kind of playground equipment they want because, after all, they will be the ones to play on it,” said Vietti.

Once the D.A. Blodgett was selected, the planning process began. On the designated “Design Day” in April, all of the kids, ranging in age from 6 to 18, met with the KaBOOM! Project Manager.

“He encouraged them to go nuts and wild,” said Amanda Rhines, Performing Arts Specialist at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s Home.

“The kids were left to their own imagination, along with Amway volunteers who helped them put down on paper the ideas that were in their head.”

Given the freedom to draw their dream playground, kids came up with everything from a helicopter landing pad to dinosaurs-- a lot of dinosaurs. That is where the adults stepped in.

“From there, we had to find common themes from the kids’ drawings and compare them with what equipment actually exists,” said Rhines.

One unique aspect of this particular build is that therapists at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s had a lot of input when it came to the equipment wants.

“The interesting thing about this build is that it is not only incorporating creative play but therapeutic play as well,” said Michelle Meulendyk, Project Administrator at Amway.

Between the kids’ drawings, the requests of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s staff, and reality, three different designs were produced, leaving staff to make an executive decision.

Besides the initial design, the kids will have a hand in the preparation leading up to the build. Projects ahead of time include creating stone pavers, various painting projects, and even creating the ribbon that will be cut during the opening ceremony.

All of the prep work culminates in one day, when Amway and community volunteers along with KaBOOM! and D.A. Blodgett staff will join together and build a playground.

Vietti said, “At KaBOOM!, we describe playground build days as like an old-fashioned barn-raising, but with a playground instead. The 200-plus volunteers will gather for an opening ceremony early in the morning and less than eight hours later, they will have transformed an empty site into a beautiful new playground.”

Volunteers will do everything from mix and pour concrete, assemble playground components, spread mulch, as well as piece together side projects like benches and picnic tables.

Meulendyk, who has participated in previous builds, said, “The agenda may be the same, but the emotional response is always different.”

“It’s an incredible amount of work.” said Vietti. “However, one of the most important aspects to the playground build is the idea of proving to people that tremendous things can happen when people rally together for a common cause – in this case, building a playground for children.”

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