Over the past 12 years, it has become a Hobart and William Smith tradition for the incoming classes to spend part of their orientation volunteering within the Geneva community. These projects serve as their introduction to the many community groups with which they’ll be involved during the course of their four years, from churches and charitable organizations to the Smith Opera House and the Geneva Community Center. This year, on Saturday, Aug. 27, students will take part in the first of two Geneva-based projects with the nationally-acclaimed non-profit KaBOOM! A few days later, the organization’s founder, Darell Hammond, will open the academic year by sharing his inspiring story as this year’s Convocation speaker at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29 on Stern Lawn.
KaBOOM! is a national organization dedicated to saving play for America’s children by building playgrounds across the country. Since its inception in 1995, the organization has built thousands of playgrounds throughout the U.S. This year, Francesca DeLuca ’11 is helping to coordinate half of the nearly 700 first-year students to refurbish three Geneva playgrounds as a collaboration between Hobart and William Smith, the Geneva community, and KaBoom! The other half of the incoming students will assist several community agencies who depend on the Colleges for end of summer assistance.
“We wanted to find a way to have a lasting impact, to do real service, and also to educate students on what community service is and what engagement means,” explains Assistant Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Jeremy Wattles. “We are thrilled to have Francesca’s enthusiasm and expertise to assist in the planning phase of this important endeavor.”
According to Hammond, play areas for children are slowly becoming desolate and non-existent, both as a result of lack of resources and interest by adults and parents alike. Moreover, with the reduction of recess time in more than 40 percent of school districts across the country, it is easy to see how playtime is slowly becoming a privilege, and less of an inherent trait of childhood.
“How did it become recess versus education? It should be recess plus education,” says Hammond in his book titled “KaBoom! How one man built a movement to save play.”
The first phase of the Colleges’ KaBOOM! project includes several small projects, meant to improve the facilities of a number of sites throughout Geneva including West Street Elementary School, Geneva Middle School and the Community Center.
Although the Geneva Community Center has wonderful open spaces and an athletic field outside, there is limited seating for parents and children. Students serving at the Community Center will spend their day assembling benches that visitors can enjoy.
The outdoor facilities of the Community Center will also be improved with the addition of tetherball poles, horseshoe pits and other interactive games that can be easily learned and played on the grounds. Trails surrounding the center will undergo renovations that will make them ideal places for even the smallest of children to walk with their families.
First-year students will also help complete similar projects at West Street School and the Middle School. Each will optimize spaces to help Geneva’s children interact with their environment, their fellow students, and to develop through physical activity and exploration.
The Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning is working with the city government, local agencies, and residents to organize the second phase of the KaBOOM! project, a potential new, full-scale playground build in April 2012.
“We still have a lot of planning to do, but people are getting on board with the idea and ideally we can make this happen on the April Day of Service, where our students will work side by side with members of the Geneva community,” says Wattles. The playground will be accessible to all Geneva children and provide a safe, fun place for children and their parents to learn and grow.
In order to organize the time, location and resources for Aug. 27 projects, DeLuca spent the summer meeting with community members, going on site visits, performing grant research for the funding, and meeting with other HWS faculty and staff to discuss environmental stability and collaboration.
“I took a landscape design class last semester where we had a project that was focused specifically on parks. That course has definitely launched my creativity as I approach this project with KaBoom!,” says DeLuca.
Recently, she met with Jamie Landi and Amanda Shaw, environmental sustainability coordinators, to discuss that aspect of the playground. DeLuca wants the playground to be eco-friendly, through both the products and the methods they use during the building process.
“This project really highlights the necessity of playtime and recess in the development of children and also gives back to community- it’s a fantastic project,” says Wattles.