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South Charleston rallies as community to make playground improvements
He watched children, parents and grandparents enjoy the significant improvements to the Second Avenue Playground, a project that inspired more than 170 volunteers to gather last October for a truly community wide, daylong effort to help provide kids a better - and safe - place to play.
"It's kind of amazing," Mullens said. "This is what makes serving your community fun."
Mullens praised the can-do spirit of members of City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee: chairman Jeff Means (Fourth Ward), Jamie Sibold (Seventh Ward) and Kathleen Walker (Third Ward).
"They made a vision a reality," Mullens said.
Walker, a local businesswoman serving her first term in the same ward her mother once represented, said she's been looking at ways to give back to the community in which she grew up. She spearheaded the project.
"I was looking for ways to help children feel a sense of community," she said, "to inspire them to become passionate about a community-based life."
Through her research, Walker learned about KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America. The organization found a funding partner in Humana. The City of South Charleston contributed $8,500 in matching funds.
The St. John's Heart and Hand Daycare, near the playground, played a significant role as well. Children were consulted on the design.
Kids drew pictures of what they wanted to see on the play space, director Nancy Davis said. One five-year-old boy had a very clear vision of what he wanted: a big blue dump truck.
Organizers couldn't find one. They did find a green bulldozer.
"It was close enough," Davis said, laughing. "He was excited he was able to have a say in what the playground needed."
"The kids love the playground," she said. "As soon as we get them after school, they want to run over there. A lot of times the parents will take them there after they pick them. It's really important that we come together as a community to support our kids.
Volunteers dug up and removed some very old playground equipment, laid down three cement pads and assembled the new equipment.
The centerpiece of the space is a structure as big as a tank, with all kinds of things for kids to run across and scurry through, swing from and slide.
The space includes a LifeTrail Advanced Wellness Center for adults 50 years old and older to help them maintain or improve their abilities to perform everyday activities.
The equipment can be used for exercises that can be performed at basic, intermediate and advanced levels. Some are handicap accessible. You can do hip lifts and thigh squeezes, work on tricep strength and other upper body exercises. That's just a sample.
There's a clear economic benefit to offering fun and safe community gathering spaces, Walker said.
"When people look to move into a community, they look at the schools, the proximity to their place of employment and recreation possibilities," she said.
"We're here to take care of each other," she said.
"Through a project like this we become more engaged as neighbors. It fills my heart up to see the playground."
To learn more about KaBOOM!, check out kaboom.org.