“Play matters for all kids” was splayed on the back of bright purple t-shirts when I arrived at FIRM
(Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries) last weekend. Thanks to Kaboom!, Kaiser Permanente, and many volunteers, a playground was built at FIRM, where our after school program meets, across the street from the Summerset apartment complex where the kids from my after school program and I live. Months ago, Kaboom! had the kids draw pictures of their ideal playground and the kids’ input was valued as the playground was designed. As the financial donor of the playground, Kaiser brought 100 volunteers to install the playground. FIRM gathered the rest of the volunteers. Most of the FIRM volunteers were Southeast Asians, and some of the volunteers live at Summerset. This created a sense of ownership and investment in the project as the volunteers built at a location important to them.
Kids 13 years old and under were ushered upstairs for a play-filled, activity-packed day with MaiChai and her team of volunteers since volunteers had to be 14 or older in order to help at the active construction site. Mellani, one of the girls who comes to the after school program, is 14. I was excited when she chose to help with the playground build. Now, when she hangs out at the playground, she can take pride in her community and her contribution to the playground.
As I moved playground equipment and shoveled dirt and wood chips, I thought about the kids I know,
and how excited they were to play on the playground. I will be playing on the playground with the kids from the after school program, and my roommates and I have access to the adult fitness area for our own use. This was no longer about other people helping their community; I felt empowered to invest in my community. Playground equipment was shipped to the site, and the playground couldn’t have happened without the generous donation from Kaiser, but the kids who were being benefitted were consulted and given a voice, such that the focus of the playground was not on outsiders giving something to a low-income area. The kids now look at the playground and know that there are swings
because that was the piece of playground equipment they most wanted. Mellani and other Summerset
residents pass the playground and know they took part in its construction. The benefits of the
community playground extend beyond children’s health, and in building the playground together, we
see a positive example of giving people a voice and the ability to bring about the change they would like to see in their own neighborhood.
This wasn’t a Care Fresno project. To some extent, that made the experience all the more powerful.
Care Fresno has its niche, but as I was told during my Care Fresno interview, we are here to come
alongside what God is already doing in the community, to do life alongside our neighbors. At my site,
that includes coming alongside what FIRM is doing. As I’ve passed the playground and played on it with kids this week, I’ve seen more than a playground; this project is a symbol to me of ways we can help communities as a whole by giving residents dignity and empowering them to better their neighborhood. These are the types of projects and programs I get excited about, because they help me love my neighbors better by seeking the development of the entire community.