Archived Story

Fun funds: new playgrounds

Published 8:48pm Saturday, December 8, 2012

A charitable trust is set to invest $100 million in several rural, low-income North Carolina counties over the next 10 years. With two playgrounds scheduled to be built next year, Beaufort County will be one of the first recipients of funds.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust selected Beaufort County to be part of Healthy Places North Carolina, a long-term initiative in which work and projects will be driven by the community’s concerns and involvement. Now, as part of the Trust’s November funding cycle, Healthy Places has teamed up with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that works with communities to build new playgrounds. The key to the building of the playgrounds is community involvement, said J. Nelson-Weaver, Healthy Places project manager.

While KaBOOM! will donate $15,000 toward the cost of each new playground and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust will front half of the matching cost, participation from community members must provide the rest, she explained. From planning where the playgrounds will be located to determining what types of playground are most appropriate and even getting out doing the work, the process will be steered by the public. Early next year, representatives from KaBOOM! will work through their project plan with youth and adult committees, finding the best spots for the new playgrounds: places where children live but may have limited access to play areas.

“It’s a very public process. It’s really designed to be a community engagement project. It should be a lot of fun,” Nelson-Weaver said.

Besides creating opportunities that are good for the health, Healthy Places is rooted in bringing together disparate people and organizations already doing good within the community to do better.

“Ours is a very different perspective. We try to build connections wherever possible and support lots of different ideas,” Nelson-Weaver said. “There’s no specific amount of money, no specific ideas that will be funded. It’s open ended.”

She explained that the whole idea behind the Healthy Places initiative is to get more people engaged in creating an environment that leads to healthier lifestyles.

“The money we have to invest never fixes health problems, people in your community fix health problems,” Nelson-Weaver said.

Beaufort County was not randomly chosen to be a part of the initiative. Instead, much research by trust employees went into the choosing Beaufort, Halifax and McDowell counties from the 100 North Carolina counties. A thriving farmer’s market and great health care providers who see low-income people were just two of the considerations that tipped the scales in Beaufort County’s favor, Nelson-Weaver said.

“We looked for counties where we can really make a difference and improve health. We looked for low income, sick folks, but looked specifically for counties where great things were already happening — where there is commitment on the part of the people,” Nelson-Weaver said, adding that the energy and creativity of Beaufort County gave trust employees the impression they could make a difference in people’s lives here.

For the past six months, Nelson-Weaver has been visiting the county, meeting with representatives from about 50 organizations and laying the groundwork for broad community involvement.

“Mostly what I’ve talked to folks about was not particular grants, but partnership opportunities in the community. A lot of it is just connecting people — maybe folks in Aurora and Belhaven have the same idea,” she explained.

Nelson-Weaver’s hope is that the Healthy Places initiative will be a 10-year process in Beaufort County: “Hopefully, we’ll get grant applications for every grant cycle for many years to come.”

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