by Mike Vietti
With more than one third of children overweight or obese and only one in five children living within walking distance of a park or playground according to the Centers for Disease Control, cities and towns across the country are re-evaluating the importance of an often-overlooked factor in quality of life: play.
In an effort to address the play deficit among children, national non-profit KaBOOM! is offering Let's Play grants totaling $2.1 million through 2013 via Playful City USA, a national program advocating for policies that increase play opportunities for children.
In 2011, 151 communities in 38 different states and one U.S. territory earned Playful City USA recognition.
These Playful City USA communities are making a commitment to play and physical activity by developing unique local action plans to increase the quantity and quality of play in their community. In doing so, some of the most innovative ideas and cost-effective programs are being developed in Playful City USA communities - proving that parks and play are more important than ever.
Cities earning Playful City USA status are eligible for a variety of exclusive Let's Play grants.
In 2012, $15,000 and $30,000 grants are available for projects relating to joint-use agreements, which are partnerships between local school districts and municipalities to open school recreation facilities to the public during non-school hours.
In addition, $20,000 Let's Play construction grants are available to Playful City USA communities. The grants are awarded to cities using the community playground build process, which engages citizens and organizations and relies on volunteers for construction, significantly lowering the cost of building playgrounds.
As part of its 2011 Playful City USA application, Starkville, Miss., created a joint-use agreement between the school district and the Parks and Recreation Department to open school play and recreation spaces to the public during non-school hours. By entering the agreement, the city nearly doubled the number of publicly accessible recreation facilities.
"It all started with the Playful City USA status," Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye said. "The task force that was part of that team had a goal of increasing the number of playspaces that were open to the public within the city. We looked at other cities where they were sharing playspaces and modeled our inter-local agreement after theirs."
In October of 2011, Playful City USA Ottawa, Kan., used a $20,000 Let's Play construction grant to build the city's first accessible playground. Nearly 150 volunteers from the community donated their time to build the playground, which featured more than 20 playground components along with park benches and picnic tables to round out the playground area.
More information about Playful City USA and an application can be found at www.kaboom.org/playfulcityusa
. Applications for 2012 Playful City USA status are due March 15 and applications for grants are due
Cities must complete both applications to be eligible for grants. The Playful City USA grants are part of Let's Play, a community partnership led and underwritten by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to get kids active nationwide.
Mike Vietti is communications manager at KaBOOM!