On a Sunday morning at 8:30, skies threatening rain, three hundred eager volunteers gathered in the vacant space at the front of two sixteen-storey high-rise buildings at 2743 Victoria Park Avenue. Their mission: to construct, from the ground up, 2,700 square feet of playground space. Much preparation had gone into organizing the build, and now, volunteers had six hours to transform a patch of dirt into a colourful playscape.
After the exclamation “Let’s build a playground!” was bellowed over a booming PA system, volunteers got down to business. Armed with a selection of tools and equipment, including a hundred rakes, a bunch of wheelbarrows, thirty thousand pounds of concrete, and a mountain of mulch, sledgehammers, and shovels, by 2:30 the same afternoon, they had achieved their goal.
In a unique example of community building, Foresters, an insurance provider, along with KaBoom, a nonprofit organization committed to ensuring children have access to play equipment, have paired up to build playgrounds for communities that lack them. Foresters provides the funding; KaBoom provides the know-how. (Since 1996, KaBoom has constructed over 1,800 playgrounds, skate parks, and ice rinks across North America.)
Volunteers participating in this past Sunday’s build were made up of KaBoom organizers as well as employees from Foresters and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Additional volunteers came from the neighbourhood, while a few others had travelled from as far away as British Columbia and San Diego. Even two of Toronto’s finest helped out, shoveling mulch. George Mohacsi, Foresters’ president and CEO, slipped on work gloves, pitching in to mix batches of concrete.
Seka Kokeza, a Foresters employee participating in her second build, said assembling a playground in six hours was like putting together a bookcase from Ikea, only one hundred times more difficult (unless, of course, you have Superman assemble said bookcase). Playground constructing was hard work, Kokeza admitted, but in the end, when the equipment has been assembled and the ribbon-cutting ceremony complete, seeing the excited expressions on the faces of the children made it worthwhile.
To the children’s chagrin, though, there was a delayed reward aspect associated with the entire undertaking. Because the concrete footings take forty-eight hours to harden, the youngsters have to wait until today before actually getting a chance to break in the new play equipment. Drats!
Back in June, children living in the high-rises took part in a community event called Design Day, providing input for the design of their park space. Many of their suggestions, minus (as one child told us) chocolate bar trees, were incorporated into the play space. On construction day, anticipation of the new playground was palpable: a countdown calendar was taped on a wall in the austere lobby of one building. Printed in a child’s handwriting, they had been x-ing out the days until their dream park became reality.
Thanks to the hard work of numerous volunteers this past Sunday, one Toronto neighbourhood received a playground, and it won’t be the last. This year, Foresters and KaBoom will work together building twenty playgrounds across North America and two more in the GTA—one in Mississauga, and the other in Brampton.
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.