Project is a pilot program in a new initiative called Play 4 All which brings communities together for the good of children
By Nicholas Elmes
The Ferguson Fraternal Order of Police have raised funds for, and helped build, a new playground at the Ferguson Community Center.
The $30,000 project is a pilot program in a new initiative being spearheaded by Florissant native Victoria Babb called Play 4 All.
“We talked to police associations in St. Louis City and St. Louis County to see if they would like to help bring playgrounds to their communities and then help raise dollars for it as well as bringing officers and families out to help build it,” said Babb, noting that the city of Ferguson was the first such build in the area. “The thing about a playground is it creates a common area for gathering, for exercise and for family bonding. It is something that is lasting and sustainable. I could not ask for a better place to start something that I think could have a really big impact.”
On Sept. 28, volunteers from the city and community gathered to build the new playground behind the Ferguson Community Center at 1050 Smith Ave.
The new ADA-compliant playground, which took about four hours to construct, features a variety of slides, activity panels, climbing options and various levels of decks for children to play on.
Babb said Play 4 All provided the design for the playground because they wanted to get the pilot project up and running as soon as possible, but noted that she hoped that future community-built playgrounds in the region could incorporate community input on the designs.
She noted that there was plenty of room to expand and improve the new Ferguson playground in the future if the community continued to support it.
“This benefits the youth,” said Ferguson City Spokesman Jeff Small. “It is a way to bring smiles to kids and help parents do whatever they need to do in the community while the kids just play.
“There are many kids in the community who do not have access to a safe playground and this will allow them to just be kids,” he added, noting that the community effort involved in the new playground was a good example of a community coming together two years after social unrest placed it on the national stage.
“There is a focus on moving forward and the kids are certainly at the forefront of that,” said Small. “This lets them just be kids and not be bombarded by the serious things that we are forced to talk about in this community.”
Babb said that sense of community was one of the key focuses of the pilot program.
“The city had been discussing bringing a playground to the community center,” she explained. “They find that a lot of kiddos come and enjoy the computers and the fitness equipment inside but they don’t have much to do outside.”
But, she said, playgrounds can be quite costly.
“Often it is the money that keeps communities from enjoying a nice playground or fitness area,” she said. “As a fundraiser of 20 plus years I am able to go and help identify investors for playgrounds.”
She worked with the Ferguson Fraternal Order of Police to start calling potential investors in the middle of August.
“It took about 48 hours of calling and asking for help,” said Babb. “People were already familiar with the impact of playgrounds, and with what happened two years ago and Ferguson being at the forefront of the media, people thought this was a novel way to bring different sectors together in hopes of better communication and building connections.”
Small said the city was happy to help cut red tape to make the project a reality.
“We tried to eliminate all of the obstacles and make sure it happened and that it happened as quickly as possible,” he said, noting that the new playground was a welcome addition at an already successful community center. “This center is something the community wanted and we have seen utilization with older and younger adults. There have been a number of improvements planned for outside and this just adds to that. Now if you have a family come here, mom can go do her thing in one area, dad can play basketball and the kids can play on the playground.
“There will also be volleyball courts and an outdoor track,” he added. “This place has been one of the highlights for me since I been with the city. You see families coming through the door, or maybe a neighbor bringing in kids from the neighborhood who all look different and are just there to play. It is white, it is black, and it looks like a community. That is representative of what this is supposed to be.”
Babb said it was possible that she could help the city to raise money to add even more to the outdoor facilities, mentioning that an outdoor “American Ninja” type obstacle course would be fun to explore.
“Kids will typically eventually age out of playgrounds and that would be something where the older kids could come compete on an obstacle course,” said Babb. “Maybe after this we can engage some of the investors to build something like that. We can certainly look at another phase.”
She said anyone interested in helping to expand the playground should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, noting that she is also hoping to work with police associations throughout the region to spur community-built playgrounds.
”You can tell a lot about a community by what it provides for its children,” she said. “The fact that people can come together and put their differences aside for the children is something that we need more of.”