An army of KaBOOM volunteers converge onto Brooks Park to assemble a new playground. Photo by Andrew Moore.
An army of KaBOOM volunteers converge onto Brooks Park to assemble a new playground. Photo by Andrew Moore.

An army of more than 200 volunteers came together at San Antonio’s Brooks Park yesterday morning. Their mission: Assemble an entire playground in just six hours. At 8:30 a.m. there was only a flat space, a giant mulch pile, and a stack of cement mix bags.  At 2 p.m. the park looked like this:

The finished product at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.
The finished product at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.

The project was a joint effort between San Antonio Parks and Recreation, national nonprofit KaBOOM, and health insurance provider Humana Inc.

Humana footed the bill and contributed most of the volunteers. More than 150 of its employees worked on the project, including the top company leadership that came to San Antonio from Louisville, Kentucky.

Other volunteers came from San Antonio Parks and Recreation and the Alamo City Rugby Football Club. KaBOOM organizers managed the project.

“What we find is that it is really a great way to have employees give back and really create teamwork,” Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard said. “They come out of here rejuvenated in all kinds of ways. It’s a team building thing, but wrapped around a great cause.”

Playground assembly was a big change of pace for the Humana employees, who generally work in an office, but that didn’t keep the CEO and senior team from being right in the middle of the construction.

Human Chief Consumer Officer Jody Bilney pauses for a photo while volunteering at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.
Human Chief Consumer Officer Jody Bilney pauses for a photo while volunteering at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Chief Consumer Officer Jody Bilney said with a smile. “One of the guys actually got all the parts out on a piece of wood and said, ‘This like Christmas, It’s completely intimidating!’ – having to try to put all the stuff together looking at the directions. It’s a great day, a great day.”

“I could either be here or in the office back in Louisville where it is about 15 degrees today, so this is awesome,” Director of Corporate Communications Jim Turner said. “Every volunteer will tell you that if you can have a day doing this instead of sitting in the office – we’ll take this opportunity any day.”

By the end of the project, Brooks Park had a new set of swings, a jungle gym with a built-in slide, a rock wall, tick-tack-toe panel, monkey bars, a spinami, and more. For adults, the volunteers installed three fitness stations, two shade areas, a garden, and several new benches. To install the structures, volunteers mixed a total of 20,000 pounds of concrete with only rakes and wheelbarrows. They then moved 160 cubic yards of mulch into the play area.

While you may not have heard of KaBOOM, you and your children have most likely enjoyed one of its playgrounds. The national non-profit is dedicated to keeping children active by building safe outdoor play spaces and has partnered with cities and companies to build 2,411 playgrounds across the country — including 26 in San Antonio. In fact, KaBOOM’s first playground was built in San Antonio 18 years ago in the Coliseum Oaks community park.

Volunteers mix concrete for the new playground at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.
Volunteers mix concrete for the new playground at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.

The organization was founded on the belief that free, unstructured play is crucial to a child’s development ,and promotes both physical and mental health and creativity.

“It’s not just a playground,” KaBOOM Project Manager Ted Freidman said. “It’s a muscle-builder, it’s a friend-maker, it’s a brain-expander. And it does all of those things though play. When kids have the opportunity to run around and play, all those things are possible.”

While KaBOOM is no stranger to building playgrounds, this time around it did enlist some special consultants — 20 first-graders from Brooks Academy who attended a “dream it” event last December and drew pictures of what their ideal playground would look like. The Brooks Park playground was modeled after those pictures.

KaBOOM Founder and CEO Darell Hammond (left) and Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard pose for a photo while they and their teams build a new playground at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.
KaBOOM Founder and CEO Darell Hammond (left) and Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard pose for a photo while they and their teams build a new playground at Brooks Park. Photo by Andrew Moore.

“The great thing is this was designed by the kids, with their input, and now it’s being built by volunteers from the community, the rugby club, but also members of the Humana community that don’t even live here – who are giving back to a community that they do business in,” KaBOOM Founder and CEO Darell Hammond said.

Humana is in its fourth and final year of partnership with KaBOOM, and by the end of 2014 will have funded 53 playgrounds across the country and put in around 10,000 hours of volunteer hours. This is the second playground their partnership has produced in San Antonio. The first was built at the Ella Austin Community Center on the city’s Eastside in 2011.

City Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran, who attended the playground’s ribbon cutting ceremony, believes the playground is an important step for improving the health of the local community.

“It is going to be a new place of activity,  not only for the kids at Brooks Academy, but also for the kids across the street at Indian Hills,” Viagran said. “They are going to have a brand new fancy playscape and I’m so excited.”

The playground was important for the Alamo City Rugby Football Club, which holds games and tournaments at Brooks Park. The new playground is right next to the club’s playing fields and will help create more of a community around the sport.

“Now, when our families come out here, when our wives and girlfriends and children come out here, they have a place to play,” said volunteer and Rugby Club member Bill Harmon.

“In years past we would hire a bouncy castle or something for kids,” fellow member Luis Hernandez added.

San Antonio has maintained a partnership with KaBOOM for many years now and has been awarded KaBOOM’s “Playful City USA” distinction – making it eligible for grants towards additional playgrounds. KaBOOM will continue to look for more partnership opportunities to build San Antonio playgrounds in the future.

*Featured/top image:  An army of KaBOOM volunteers converge onto Brooks Park to assemble a new playground. Photo by Andrew Moore.

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Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore is a native of San Antonio and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote on tech startups for a year as a freelancer for Silicon Hills News and loves reporting on the cool...