An old, broken down playground on the southwest side of Grand Rapids, Mich. taunted neighborhood children with thoughts of unrealized fun for more than two years. The city condemned the old structure just months after the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) gained the rights to renovate the adjacent building for a new, free pre-school program.
Nkechy Ezeh, CEO of ELNC, knew there was no room in the budget to fix or replace the dilapidated metal structure full of rust spots and dangerous edges.
Enter Amway and its partner KaBoom!, a national nonprofit organization that installs new playgrounds in neighborhoods that are otherwise void of active engagement for children. They view the project as a brain expander, friend maker and muscle builder.
“I was screaming with delight, and I had to pull over my car when I found out Amway was the partner and we were going to get the playground our kids deserve,” Ezeh said.
A team of volunteers from the school, from KaBoom!, Amway and the neighborhood were surveyed for their opinions on what the area’s young people would most like. Based on drawings rendered by children and conversations about the possibilities of a new playground, the new molded and very colorful hard-plastic equipment provides all that the previous playground did for decades, with added safer areas to climb, balance, crawl, run and play.
It is the 17th play area KaBoom! and Amway have built together. After two days of preparation, more than 150 Amway volunteers and 50 others from the neighborhood, the new equipment was installed June 12 in less than seven hours.
In addition to play equipment, the area includes picnic tables and benches near an outdoor blackboard, so the school’s 128 students can have lessons in the sun. It also is open to approximately 800 other neighborhood children who otherwise would have to cross busy city streets to find modern and safe play equipment.
Tonja Kloosterman lives three houses down from the school and recalls playing on the old equipment in her youth, as well as some of the bumps and bruises it caused her children in more recent years.
Marianna, 7, is one of Tonja’s children. She helped plant flowers at the new play site, and was eager to get started on the new equipment, running up the street with her siblings and friends when they heard the supporting concrete was cured and the grounds were ready for play.
“I really like the slide and the see-saw,” Marianna said. “It is so cool. And whoever made it did really good.”