The Play Movement
KaBOOM! co-founder and CEO discusses his latest book and program initiatives.
by Sam Riches / @sam_riches
SLAM has a proud partnership with the non-profit organization, KaBOOM! Co-founder and CEO, Darell Hammond, held a conference call recently to discuss the current goals for the organization and talk about his new book, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play.
The organization, now in its 15th year, has built 2,000 playgrounds across the country with the help of dedicated volunteers. As result KaBOOM! has also brought happiness into the lives of countless children and families. Their focus continues to expand as the play movement gains greater and greater exposure. “We’re still facing an uphill battle,” says Hammond. “We need people to see play as not a luxury but an absolute necessity.”
In 1995, the then 24-year-old Hammond read an article in the Washington Post about two local children who suffocated while playing in an abandoned car. A reporter from the Post later uncovered that there were no playgrounds within three miles of where the deaths occurred.
“They aren’t the only two kids out there like this,” says Hammond as he reflects on the event. “All communities have kids like this, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to face dire consequences.”
Moved by this tragedy, he started his first project; building a playground in a low-income neighborhood in Columbus, OH. After going door-to-door throughout the community and asking for support in constructing the playground, 300 volunteers showed up and the framework for KaBOOM! was born.
Hammond’s goal is for each child in America to have a place to play within walking distance, while also engaging communities in the process.
He has first-hand knowledge of how strongly the youth can be affected by their community. After his mother suffered a breakdown and was unable to care for Hammond and his eight brothers and sisters, they were sent to live at Mooseheart, a group home outside of Chicago. “I had a great childhood,” he recalls. “A great upbringing.”
Entirely funded by the members of Moose International, Mooseheart gave Hammond an opportunity to make the best of his situation and a chance at success. He’s hoping the same generous spirit can be found in communities across America in coming together for a common cause.
“Play is even more important now then it was 15 years ago,” he says. “Only one in five children live within access to a park and this disproportionately effects minorities and low-income families.”
Hammond believes that giving children an area to play will not only help with their emotional, physical and cognitive development but also pay dividends in the long term. “It is our hope that these kids will continue to be physically engaged, civilly minded and continue to be part of the solution.”
He wants his book to serve as a road-map for social engagement and as a way to spark the conversation about access to play for the youth.
Hammond believes the next step in improving the situation is mapping all the playgrounds in the country and marking those that need to be enhanced or rebuilt. This knowledge will give a better understanding of the current situation and a stronger voice to the play movement.
A movement, that he is hoping, will have the strength of 10,000 cities behind it in the near future.
Hammond referenced cause for concern over the growing rates of childhood obesity, the elimination of recess and the fact that the current generation could be the first to be outlived by their parents. Creating inspiring and welcoming areas for children to play is a factor that he thinks can offset these concerns.
“We need to get people to line up on our side, there will always be people on the other side,” he says. “But ultimately, the issue needs to be where there are more people on our side believing in what we believe in and we become the majority not the minority.”
In the long term, Hammond believes the play movement has the power to make children healthier, happier and smarter, while also creating greener cities and stronger neighborhoods.
“We can’t wait for someone else to make the change, we need to make the change ourselves.”
You can order a copy of KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play here.