I love when companies and corporations work to improve the lives of their customers. I’m not talking about creating a better product and then selling it to us – although that’s not a bad thing. I’m talking about when they take a step out of their normal day to day operations and do something that will have an actual impact and make a difference. And when I see a company do that in my own community, I’m thrilled to share it with you just as I am here in this post. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll let you know that this series is a partnership with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, but I learned a LOT about this project before agreeing to promote it and I am 100% impressed with how this is coming together.
A little background on how I became involved in the Let’s Play project.
A while back, I was invited to sit in on a webinar about a program that Dr Pepper Snapple Group was working on that would encourage kids to play more. And I’m not talking about the sit-in-front-of-the-Xbox kind of play. We are talking about running, climbing, jumping, and MOVING kinds of play! Let’s Play is an initiative by Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) to provide kids and families with the tools, places and inspiration to make active play a daily priority. By 2017, DPS’s Let’s Play initiative will provide nearly 10 million kids with more opportunities to play with either new or improved playgrounds and sports equipment, helping kids achieve healthier lifestyles. DPS has committed more than $28 million (I know, right???) through Let’s Play since the program launched in 2011, impacting millions of youth serving organizations across the U.S., as well as Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Having been an elementary teacher who saw the difference in students when they had the chance to move around, I was very interested in learning more.
I know a lot of people view active play as a way for kids to pass the time between their “real learning” opportunities, but that couldn’t be more inaccurate. Play is crucial to childhood development – both mental and physical. It helps kids develop coordination, relieves stress, increases muscle strength and contributes to their social skills.
But active play is on the decline in some of the neighborhoods where it is needed most.
Physical Education classes are not a given anymore. Only a little more than half of the nation’s students are enrolled in a PE class and more than 60% of children aged 9 to 13 do not take part in any kind of organized physical activity during non-school hours. Kids are spending increasing amounts of time (an average of 7 hours a day!!) on electronics and entertainment media and playing outside is falling off. And some of these kids don’t really have a place to play outside even if they wanted to. In neighborhoods without a park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases 29 percent. In fact, children with a park or playground within a half-mile are almost five times more likely to be a healthy weight than children without playgrounds or parks nearby.
How is Let’s Play helping in Milwaukee?
Dr Pepper Snapple group, through their support of the non-profit group KaBOOM!, Marquette University High School, and the Merrill Park Neighborhood Association are planning to revitalize the Merrill Park playground. The playground houses two play structures and swings that are 15 to 20 years old and is also lacking play equipment geared for younger children.
I had the pleasure of sitting in the first planning meeting for the new playground.
First, I have to say that I LOVE the way the KaBOOM! is partnering with the local community. So many times, we see projects where an outside group comes in and (with good intentions) decides what a given community needs without asking for any local input. The result is usually something that is nice in and of itself, but doesn’t serve the community it was intended for in the way they need. No danger of that here!! The meeting was well attended and consisted of neighborhood children, parents, school administration, police, and even some representatives from the District Attorney’s office in addition to the KaBOOM! representatives and executives from Dr Pepper Snapple group. Everyone – including the kids – had a say in what they thought would be best to include in the new playground. While Dr Pepper Snapple and KaBOOM! are picking up the majority of the costs of the new playground equipment, the local community is also responsible for secure some of the funding and volunteers for build day. This is such a great way to create investment in both making the park build a success and fostering a responsibility for it once the build has been completed.
The park is currently scheduled to be built on September 12th and I hope you will circle back then to learn more about this fabulous program and see the amazing results!!