Who knows better than kids what kids want in a playground?

As it happens, kids had a hand in designing a new playground project in Brownsville’s Monte Bella Park. Performing the actual construction were volunteers from the city of Brownsville, United Way of Southern Cameron County, RGV Focus and StriveTogether. It was expected to be complete by Sept. 25.

Taking place during United Way’s Days of Caring, the project was part of an initiative by the national nonprofit KABOOM, which works to “achieve play space equity,” especially in communities of color where children often lack optimal access to playgrounds and the physical, social and emotional-health benefits they provide. The pandemic only exacerbated this disparity, according to the organization.

The new Monte Bella playground is the first in the state to incorporate the PlaySpots play system, a technologically enhanced play experience that uses cloud-enabled technology along structure for active play “to augment how kids naturally play,” said project organizers. In July, children in the surrounding neighborhood were given the opportunity to share their drawings of “dream play spaces” with project organizers, and those ideas were incorporated into the Monte Bella project design.

Volunteers look over schematics as they work to assemble in the new playscape Saturday in Monte Bella Park.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Days of Caring brought the volunteers together to learn about some of the community’s most critical needs while doing something fun together, resulting in a “playground for the community by the community,” while the project itself is designed in part to address health disparities in the city’s population “to better its culture of health by empowering the community to easily access recreational and physical activity,” organizers said.

“(UWSCC) and partners believe everyone in our community should have the opportunity to play, grow and succeed,” said that organization. “This play space will encourage families to come together and spend more time outdoors engaging in recreational activities and active play.”

StriveTogether, a national network of nearly 70 community partnerships that work toward healthier communities, provided funding and community engagement support for the project.

Traci Wickett, UWSCC president and CEO, said the playground structure had to be built before the soft landing surface could be poured and cured. She singled out the city’s parks and recreation department for praise and described its director, Damaris McGlone, as “the perfect partner.”

“This could not have happened without the great team at the Brownsville parks and rec department,” Wickett said. “United Way of Southern Cameron County is thrilled to work with amazing partners and hard-working volunteers to bring an awesome playscape to an area of Brownsville that desperately needs fun places for kids to play.”

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