By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Few things bring a brighter smile to a child’s face than a playground full of swings, slides and monkey bars.
But kids who live on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul campus and in the surrounding Smoketown neighborhood do not have easy access to a playground.
Now, thanks to the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that helps communities build playgrounds, children in this area will have a brand-new place to play this summer. And it will be a playground they helped to design.
The project is part of the Let’s Play initiative, a partnership led by the Dr. Pepper Snapple group, to motivate children and their families to get active, said Randy Bright, market manager for the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has pledged a three-year, $15 million commitment to KaBOOM! to build or renovate 2,000 playgrounds in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Representatives from KaBOOM! contacted the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in early March about constructing a new playground on the campus, said Nancy Naughton, associate executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Bright said that while this is the fifth playground project he has been a part of, the excitement of the children never gets old.
“Just coming down here and seeing the kids’ faces and the parent involvement. What they are willing to commit is amazing,” he said.
An integral part of the process is getting the kids involved, said Brenna Hull, the project manager for KaBOOM!. Children who are residents of the apartments on the St. Vincent de Paul campus were invited to a design meeting April 2 at the society’s Open Hand Kitchen, 1026 S. Jackson Street.
“We want you to be involved every step of the way,” Hull told the children at the design meeting.
Hull asked the children present why a playground is important. One responded “So we aren’t bored.” Another said, “To get exercise.” And a third child simply said, “To have fun.”
Using crayons and markers, about 15 youngsters drew their dream playgrounds on large sheets of paper. Some drew trampolines, rock-climbing walls and swimming pools. Others colored swing sets, spiral slides and four-square courts.
Some elements from these drawings will be incorporated into the new playground.
Following the children’s design meeting, parents met with Hull to choose the actual pieces and colors for the playground, based on the children’s drawings.
On May 31, about 250 volunteers will spend six to seven hours installing the equipment for the playground, Naughton said.
It will be located in between the campus apartments, which are for formerly-homeless families, and the new campus Family Success Center, which is also in its planning stages.
The Family Success Center will provide year-round programming that will focus on helping at-risk children academically as well as socially, said Linda Romine, director of communication for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The society is renovating an existing 11,550 square-foot building on the campus to house programs for children ages six to 18, which will include a computer lab, space for after-school tutoring, a game room, a cafe and culinary lab, a full-court gym and an outdoor garden, Romine said.
Naughton said the playground is important to the St. Vincent de Paul campus because of what it will add to the children’s lives.
“In this immediate vicinity there are few places for kids to play. I really see it as a neighborhood enhancement for severely at risk kids,” she said.
Bright said it’s tough to choose places to receive a playground but believes he could not have found a more worthwhile neighborhood.
“When you look around at the work they do, it’s amazing,” he said. “I’m really glad there are people (such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul who are) “willing to help others.”