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Building Community through Service and Play

August 9, 2010

By Amy Dickinson | AmeriCorps*NCCC (2002-2003)/AmeriCorps*State and National (2003-2004)

If you have never herded a hundred boisterous elementary school kids half a mile through San Diego’s Barrio Logan—under I-5, past Chicano park, to the soccer field near the bay—I think you should. Or I think you should closely approximate such an experience. When I participated in AmeriCorps*NCCC in 2002-2003, my first big messy unwieldy achievement came when my teammates and I organized a youth soccer tournament for the students of King/Chavez Academy of Excellence. Over a series of days, we traveled en masse through the neighborhood’s streets. Our arms overflowed with orange cones; our shoulders bore the AmeriCorps logo; and our students executed mock bicycle kicks. We were a walking spectacle of writhing bodies and Real Madrid chants, impossible for the community to ignore.

And I’m glad. For three days, we infused a park with life. We took over a space—one neighbors often cited as unsafe—and filled it with play. Twelve AmeriCorps members and crowds of hot-Cheetos-adoring kids spent a couple hours each afternoon running wildly, half-listening to referees’ calls, and visibly enjoying our community’s public spaces.  Our presence drew barrio teenagers and adults to the fields to witness and participate in the fun.

Looking back, I can cite a thousand things I would alter in terms of organization, but my end result would remain the same: kids + play + community + public spaces + visible presence. Now, I want to add AmeriCorps alums to that equation and link us into a national effort to highlight the importance of play.

Chances are many alums or alum chapters already engage in activities similar to what I described above: park clean-ups, sports leagues, neighborhood revitalization efforts, playground meet-ups, trail rides. Chances are many alums will engage in outdoor activities in their favorite public spaces the week of September 18th – 26th. That week the national non-profit KaBOOM! hopes to foster community ties, encourage service projects, and emphasize the importance of play. How? By activating communities to host Play Days. (Full disclosure: KaBOOM! is the national non-profit for whom I work and with whom I first volunteered to build a playground as an AmeriCorps member.)

A Play Day can be anything a community envisions. A Play Day is a bunch of kids playing soccer and re-enacting the moves of Maradona. It is a group bike ride on a favorite trail. It is a community barbecue and sack race at the park down the street.

I’m hoping we can build a coalition of AmeriCorps alums to host Play Days across the country. You can join KaBOOM! and host a Play Day to help save play for the kids in your community by starting a Play Day at http://kaboom.org/playday. There, you’ll be part of the movement; you’ll have access to dozens of great ideas for simple, fun activities; and, if you incorporate a service element, you’ll be eligible for community improvement grants.

It’s simple. It’s awesome. It matters.

Comment below or email wsoenksen@americorpsalums.org to get involved in Play Day as an AmeriCorps alum!

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