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As part of their comprehensive Hurricane Katrina Recovery Program, AmeriCares awarded more than $10.2 million in grants to 164 grassroots organizations in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Among the grants implemented in late 2006 were the design and construction of several playgrounds that were built by volunteers organized by Washington D.C-based KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization that envisions “a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.”
On the day of the build, 340 enthusiastic volunteers joined forces in the Fort Bayou area of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, divided into teams to build the playground in one day (actually—incredibly!—just six hours). When the volunteers arrived at 9 a.m., the first thing they saw was a fifteen foot high mound of wood chips, and a shipping container full of colorful pipes, rolls of felt, bags of bolts and screws, as well as rakes, wheelbarrows and pallets of stacked sod.
Almost immediately the teams went to work cutting down the chip pile, assembling the pipes, mixing cement, and passing folded sod squares bucket-brigade fashion, to transform the empty lot they were standing on to a park and playground. A large, vocal contingent of volunteers was from a local Air Force base, whose collective strength and discipline was a major part of assembling the complex parts in the allotted time.
When they were done at 3 p.m., Mayor Connie Moran presided over the “ribbon cutting”-in this case that meant ripping a paper chain made by children (who could not otherwise participate on a building site), and standing behind them in full view was a swingset, a seesaw, a monorail, a picnic table and benches as well as several other amusements embedded in concrete, but surrounded by soft woodchips to avert any injuries from falls, signaling a job well done. The children (and eager adults) had to restrain themselves from using the equipment for three days to allow the cement to set.
KaBOOM!, no stranger to this kind of building blitz, clocked this as their 27th “Operation Playground” in the Gulf Coast. Darrell Hammond, CEO and co-founder of KaBOOM! said “we owe it to the Gulf Coast children to give them a sense of normalcy and a chance to still be kids in the aftermath of the storm. For AmeriCares to commit their money and time to this project and for the City of Ocean Springs to make this a priority is incredible, and we’re honored to work with two such outstanding partners.”
“We are delighted to be able to support this significant effort with KaBOOM! and the City of Ocean Springs, said Trish Tweedley, AmeriCares Vice President of Hurricane Recovery Program. “We believe that by giving katrina’s youngest survivors a safe place to play, their parents will have peace of mind, too. This project is one more stap in revitalizing this strong community.”