You’ve probably heard of the term “the butterfly effect.” It’s basically how one small act can set off a chain of events that can lead to something really big.
That’s what I was thinking about when I was in the eastern North Carolina town of Rocky Mount recently with about 200 other volunteers, building a playground at Aycock Park.
This was Blue Cross NC’s 11th playground build in North Carolina, partnering with KaBOOM! and local communities. It was the fourth build that I’ve attended personally, and they are all hot, sweaty, fun, and extremely rewarding.
Why do we build playgrounds?
Three out of four children in our country don’t get the daily amount of exercise that their bodies need, according to KaBOOM!. We’re talking about at school, at home, and out in the community.
I believe it. My son, a third grader, started wearing a watch to school so that he could time his recess (and report on the injustice of it when they don’t get their full 30 minutes, which they rarely do). That he does this both amuses me and makes me sad.
Kids need at least an hour of physical activity each day to keep their minds and bodies healthy. Even if they get a full recess at school, what about when they get home? What if they don’t have a safe place to play outside?
That’s why we fund and participate in these playground builds – to keep kids healthy and to provide a safe and fun place for them to run and play in their community.
The playground equipment that was previously at Aycock Park was 20 years old – ancient, as far as those things go. It had graffiti all over it and it was tucked away in a corner of the park. So not exactly welcoming to children and their families.
Steve Warren, Rocky Mount’s Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, told me that this new playground (moved to a more open spot in the park) was just the beginning of Aycock Park’s makeover. “We will also be adding a concrete walking trail around the perimeter, a basketball court, some picnic tables and benches,” he said.
“Where we’ve added walking trails to other parks, we see parents walking while their kids are playing. The whole family can really get involved,” he said. “Aycock Park will serve about 2,000 residents who are within walking distance.”
See, there’s the butterfly effect – one small act leading to something bigger. A new playground helping an entire community get healthier.
Many of the Blue Cross NC volunteers were playground build veterans. Some had even participated in all 11 of them. Business Analyst Matt DiPierro said, “I came last year, and it was a lot of fun to see a space go from nothing to something.”
He said, “It’s good for kids to have a place to go and play. I had a playground growing up in my neighborhood, and it kept me busy and out of trouble!”
IT director Aldara Moum was one of the rare first-timers. She said, “This is awesome. It’s part of our culture at Blue Cross NC to give back, and I’m so glad my team and I could be part of this.”
Volunteers painted signs, put together the playground equipment (including the Superdome, which proved to be a bit tricky), spread mulch, laid down sod, and poured concrete.
In just six hours, the space had, as Matt DiPierro put it, “gone from nothing to something.” Something amazing. And it was well worth the sore muscles, sweat, and concrete dust.
When we wrapped up in Rocky Mount that day, the kids were on their way home from school, so we didn’t get to see the looks on their faces when they saw the new playground.
But a picture is worth a thousand words, and we recently saw pictures of the kids playing. It was one of the days after Hurricane Florence – which thankfully did not cause any damage to this park – when the sun finally came out, and everyone wanted to get outside and soak it in.
The kids were laughing and running, climbing on the Superdome and hanging on the bars, full of joy. Those sweet smiles are why we build playgrounds.