New Boys and Girls Club playground becomes a reality

Published 8:02 am Saturday, October 7, 2023

By Clark Curtis for the Washington Daily News

A true melting pot of more than 50 volunteers came together on Oct. 4 for the final construction of the new state-of-the-art playground at the Boys and Girls Clubs Coastal Plain, Washington Unit. It replaces the old playground which stood for 30 years and greatly served multiple generations of young children. “I grew up in this area and I vividly remember playing on the playground equipment that once stood here,” said Mayor Donald Sadler, who was on hand to flip some hot dogs for the volunteers. “My heart is overjoyed to see all of the volunteers that are putting in their time, sweat, and effort to make this a huge success. Their work will show the children that people do love and care for them.”

“I have been coming here since I was six years old,” said Kamayah Freeman, who is now 16, a former student, and currently works at the club. “Seeing all of these different people coming out here to build our new playground, hand paint murals on our shed, paint our picnic tables, and even fix our community garden beds. It shows they really do care. I’m so thankful for everyone who is out here today.”

The project was a collaborative effort between the Boys and Girls Club, Kaboom, a national nonprofit committed to ending playspace inequity, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. “I don’t think I have ever been on a project thus far that has had such a deep level of community involvement,” said Peter Christophersen, project coordinator with Kaboom. “I am touched by the level of dedication by all of these folks. For me personally, it brings a new perspective to my life when I see people from all walks of life set aside their differences and come together for the benefit of the children.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has been partnering with Kaboom since 2009, and this build marked their 15th playground project with Kaboom in North Carolina. “Each playground build is special and has its own unique journey,” said Elijah Evans, project manager associate with the community engagement team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. “We had to do some pivoting and flexing around Tropical Storm Ophelia, but we all pulled it together. It means the world to me to work side-by-side with all of these volunteers. It was a team effort that transformed this area from nothing into what we have today. This is what it is all about and I’m sure the kids will appreciate it even more.”

The director of the Boys and Girls Clubs Coastal Plain, Washington Unit, Janée Johnson took pause as the shadows began to form at the end of the day on the brand new playground. “I’m overwhelmed with happiness and the anticipation of how excited the kids are going to be when they get their first chance to play on the equipment,” said Johnson. “They had a hand in helping to design the playground and it will give them a sense of ownership knowing that this is their playground.”

Johnson also said that she is excited for the people who will now be able to drive by and see the finished product. “This is really a big deal for the community. Perhaps this will serve as an incentive for them to come out and become more involved at the Boys and Girls Club. We encourage them to bring their own unique creations and talents to share with the kids. After all, that’s what it is about.”

At the end of the long day, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs Coastal Plain, Mark Holtzman, had time to pause and reflect. “My initial takeaway is seeing what can be accomplished when the community comes together and how a project like this brings people out that never would have had an opportunity to meet,” said Holtzman. “The entire transformation here in the form of upgrading our community garden, the murals, and the painting of the picnic tables, are a result of our volunteers and will truly be something the children will be proud of. It is really neat to see the pride that comes over their young faces when they have something that they can be proud of.”

But as Holtzman went on to say this is more than just a playground. It is a bridge to the rest of the community. “We want to be known as something more than just a club for poor kids,” said Holtzman. “That is now who we are. The Boys and Girls Club is something that all kids can be proud of and want to come and be a part of. A project like this raises the bar for us and takes our facility up to the level of our programming, which nobody can match. This will help to change the reputation of the club, and what it means to the community. We no longer will be looked upon as just a club for “those kids” or the “poor kids”, but as a club for everyone in the community. We want it to look that way and feel that way.”

Kaboom wants to share its’ many thanks to the volunteers from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Flatlands Jesusp Insurance Company, the PS Jones Alumni Association, the mayor, city council members, the police department, and the countless hours put in by local members of the community who worked tirelessly to make this day possible.