Home > Uncategorized > One Playground Brings Many Positive Changes

One Playground Brings Many Positive Changes

imin[The dreams and successes of a community in bringing an abandoned school back into service for their neighborhood are well displayed in this article by Heidi Benzonelli.  The article is posted on the KaBOOM! website both in thanks to KaBOOM for their help and to encourage other communities about what is possible when people work together. –Mrs Thomas]

From the KaBOOM! article:

In July 2012, we partnered with PG&E and the Westside Community Improvement Association in Eureka, Calif. to build a playground at a site that was formerly an abandoned schoolyard. Not only are children of all ages flocking to the new playground, but neighbors are getting to know each other, crime is decreasing, and families are biking more and eating better. Here, Eureka resident Heidi Benzonelli (pictured right) tells us how the playground changed everything:

We had a dream—to turn an abandoned public school site into a playground, a park, and a community center. Piece by piece, our dream is becoming reality.

The Jefferson Elementary School closed in 2005 and its facilities went into a state of blight. When it closed, officials took away the playground equipment, installed a chainlink fence around the schoolyard, and put up “No Trespassing” signs. But that didn’t stop kids from playing there. They used to crawl through the fence or pry the gates open to get in. There was no playground, but they were running around the schoolyard and playing with a huge truck tire.

The neighborhood rallied together and we were able to raise enough money and secure financing to obtain ownership of the property. The first thing we did was to open the gates, and the kids and all their brothers and sisters came pouring in. Then we started reaching out for grants and partnerships everywhere. We always knew what we wanted; what we didn’t realize is that if we just got started, the energy would build on itself. One day, kids were pushing a tire around the schoolyard and the next day, PG&E and KaBOOM! came forward with a grant for a new playground.

I can’t tell you what a difference the playground has made. It has been a magnet for everyone to come and bring their kids. Kids now know their neighbors—we’ve restored the community commons. Because they’re there, people rake the wood chips and pick up trash. The playground gives them an opportunity to be of service and give what they can give.

Before, we were having some problems with rival tagging and some of our younger teenagers getting involved in gang activity. A big problem was lack of options. They’d ask themselves, “What are we going to do today?” and then take the path of least resistance of what was available to them. Kids now have a beautiful playground, and what’s available is a place to come and play and be kids. We have no more graffiti, and we’re not seeing the younger kids involved in gang activity. The other thing that’s happened is the parents are stepping up and taking ownership. They’re saying, “This is OUR playground, this is a family thing going on here.” The people who were using the site because it was abandoned are gone – just through self-governance, not signs or rules or threats.

The playground has had an impact on kids of all ages. One of our volunteers has a little boy who’s about two, and before the playground there was no place for her to let him loose. He was always in the stroller. Now he comes to the playground every day—he climbs the climbing wall and goes all the way up to the top of the play structure.

Some of our volunteers, including me, had never been involved in a big community project before. Once you get a taste of it, you want more. Now we’re working on transforming the North building of the school into a community event center and renovating three classrooms for all-age recreation, everything from infant toddlers to teens to older people.  We are renovating the kitchen into a fully permitted commercial kitchen so we can provide healthy nutritious food at all of our events. Kids are getting addicted to fruits and vegetables! An organization called Bicycle Kitchen is teaching kids how to fix bikes, so we’re promoting the health and physical fitness of our community, as well as offsetting greenhouse gases.

Because we now have a volunteer base, when someone comes forward and wants to do something, BOOM! we’re doing it. A lady called recently and said, “Hey, my mom told me what’s going on down there and I’m a dietician. I’m here for a week and I’d like to teach a class.” We were able to email and call a few parents I met from the KaBOOM! build, and about nine kids showed up. Then a guy said he wanted to do a community drum circle, so we gave him the keys. We’re providing an opportunity for people to share their gifts.

We’ve done it. The gates are open. The kids are playing. The community has come together and is hungry to be of service. We’re succeeding. Thank you KaBOOM!.

  1. February 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Good job!

  2. Anonymoose
    February 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Officials did not take the playground equipment away until a drunk driver plowed through the fence and smashed the equipment up and made it unsafe.

  3. Anonymous
    February 7, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Humboldt Herald gives thanks to Home Depot? KaBOOM is sponsored by Home Depot.

  4. Mitch
    February 7, 2013 at 6:20 am

    So now there is a playground, perhaps with help from Home Depot, and perhaps on a site that was once hit by a drunk driver who plowed through a fence:

  5. Goldie
    February 7, 2013 at 9:06 am

    The playground for the Jefferson Project was built with funds from the community and from PG&E. Common areas within neighborhoods enrich the community and provide a higher quality of life for those who live there. KaBOOM is dedicated to providing places for children to play.

  6. jtimmons88
    February 7, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Congratulations to Heidi and the community.

  7. Anonymous
    February 7, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I saw a poster for a youth dance for 2/15 but can’t find it now. My child would like to attend and I would like to volunteer as a chaperon. What number should I call?

  8. Heidi Benzonelli
    February 7, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    The flyer is on our facebook page you can call me (707) 498-5764 and i will give you Jovanah’s contact info,she is coordinating the event.

  9. Heidi Benzonelli
    February 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    you can also email me at lets.buy.jefferson at gmail dot com

  10. Anonymous
    February 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Good for KaBoom and PG&E, and thank you very much. But what about an even bigger thank you to all of the private business owners and community members that stepped in and volunteered their time way before KaBoom or PG&E? You know, the ones that didn’t release a press release about themselves? An even bigger thank you to you!!

  11. February 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    You are right. Thank yous are well earned by local bussinesses who have helped. You will find them listed and celebrated at http://jefferson-project.org/

  12. Just Watchin
    February 8, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I’m curious if Walmart was approached about contributing. They generally will get involved with local projects. Is the “Hate Walmart” feeling so strong that there was a concern that they might say yes? I’m sure that if they had been asked, and said no, it would have been front page news.

  13. Anonymous
    February 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Yes it is Just Watching. If Mitch were drowning and Walmart threw him a life line Mitch would drown on purpose.

  14. Anonymous
    February 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Why can’t this just be a feel good thing. Why all the BULLSHIT. Isn’t there just a time when we can all be happy for someone or something special like this. I’m proud that this is coming together. THANK YOU!

  15. Just Watchin
    February 9, 2013 at 6:42 am

    Anonymous :Yes it is Just Watching. If Mitch were drowning and Walmart threw him a life line Mitch would drown on purpose.

    I was not directing my comment at Mitch, but the people running the project in general. It would be sad if much needed funding was ignored just because of the “we hate Walmart” vendetta.

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