Making Playground Dreams Come True
Eleven-year-old Tristan Ogren has a vision of his dream playground. The park would have a big castle-like structure with rock walls to climb. Contained within the castle’s walls would be a reflective maze which would twist and wind, ending with a corkscrew slide. It would be, as he says, “cool.” The imaginative boy could see his dream come to fruition thanks to a unique non-profit group called KaBoom!
KaBoom! is a national organization that partners with qualifying communities to combat a problem they have identified as play deficit. KaBoom! research has determined that lack of accessible parks and unstructured play has led to an epidemic of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, anxiety disorders, and depression. The organization believes they can resolve play deficit by building more public playgrounds. Odessa Family Y Health and Wellness Director Steve Talbot said a United Way Representative had contacted the Y about an opportunity to apply for the innovative program.
A huge part of KaBoom!’s success is community involvement. As a prerequisite of the application, Talbot needed to collect signatures of committed volunteers. His efforts paid off and the Odessa Family Y was awarded the KaBoom! program. Plans to transform the Mike Neeley Park, located west of the Odessa Family Y, began.
Nate Ogren, Tristan’s father, is one of the many volunteers on the project. “I haven’t done anything for the community. I’m doing this for my son and the children of Odessa. Kids need some place safe to play. I remember growing up and always being outside. Nowadays, kids are constantly indoors playing video games. They need to get out and get active,” Ogren said.
KaBoom! implements an eight-week timeline to prepare volunteers for the building day. About 20 to 30 planning committees will meet once a week leading up to construction. During the thirty-minute meetings, numerous details and jobs will be outlined to organize everyone for the build day. “On building day we will have about 200 volunteers show up. We will have the site ready and the equipment will be there. On Saturday, May 3rd, from 9 am to 3 pm, we build it and go home,” said Talbot.
Truly one of the fun aspects of KaBoom! is that the children themselves get to help design the park. About 20 to 30 kids aged 5 to 12, armed with pencils, paper, crayons and markers, draw what they would want as their dream playground. Then about five to seven adults will look at the drawings and find common themes. “We then look through Playwell playground equipment catalogs and match the kids’ ideas as best we can,” Talbot said.
Being active in summer under the scorching West Texas sun can be a challenge, because playground equipment inevitably becomes too hot and inaccessible. KaBoom! has a solution. “KaBoom! has built over 15,000 playgrounds. Less than one percent of the parks get a canopy. We’re lucky, they are providing us a massive sun shade structure,” said Talbot.
Parks and necessary amenities are expensive. Even with an army of volunteers to do the work, constructing a playground is not cheap. “The cost of building a playground is upwards of $150,000. During the application process we knew there was an unknown funder. We later found out Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas would be footing the bill,” Talbot said. Additional beautification to the park will be an ongoing side project. Talbot envisions public art, planters, and benches to enhance the park aesthetically. The Y Health and Wellness director added, “We gratefully accept donations for the additional park improvements.”
Talbot invites everyone in Odessa to be a part of this public venture. “We want the whole community in on this. Young and old alike can be a part of it. There is a job for everyone. The more people involved the better.” One-hundred and fifty volunteers are needed to complete this project within one day—Saturday, May 3.
For more information on this community project, contact Steve Talbot at the Odessa Family Y, 432–362–4301.