For about a year now I have heard neighbors complain about the playground at the Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy off Irving St. between 13th and 14th. The old playground was rusted and in pretty bad condition, to the point that neighbors were making small fixes on the equipment themselves. The good news is that the old playground has been removed in preparation for the construction on a new one! But, a lot of organizing and food and monetary donations are needed ahead of the May 15th build day. We caught up with Matt Grimison, an organizer who is helping making this new playground a reality, and asked him about the project.
How did this playground replacement project come to be?
About a year ago a group of neighbors who live nearby started looking into the playground and the potential of getting it updated. The main early issue was jurisdiction, since figuring out who actually owned and controlled the playground was baffling. Mary Mcleod Bethune Day Academy is a public charter school that leases the old Slowe school building from the city. There is also the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B building on the site of the old playground, so that further muddied the waters. After meeting with school officials we figured out the jurisdiction and the fact that the school had authority through the lease. The ball started rolling pretty quickly after making that determination, and school founder Dr. Linda McKay put the playground upgrade on the school’s front burner. During the collaboration among neighbors and school officials someone mentioned KaBOOM!, so the group started looking into their program.One aside is that the ANC trailer on the grounds is in deplorable condition, with sharp rusted sheet metal protruding from the base and broken glass often strewn about, creating an unsafe play environment. We would love to see it moved, but that, unfortunately, is not part of the playground project right now.
KaBOOM! is an incredible D.C.-based national nonprofit that works to promote play for children. One thing they do is pair communties like ours with foundations and corporate sponsors to build playgrounds. Back in March, we asked kids to draw us their ideas for their dream playgrounds and we used those as inspiration for the design of our new playground. With a KaBOOM! project, the school and community work hands on – literally – in planning and building the playground, culminating in a single Build Day where the equipment is installed by volunteers. Not only does this approach make the resulting playground a real community/school endeavor, but it slices through red tape and makes the quick project timetable possible.The sponsor for the Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy playground is The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. They not only financially contributing, but about 100 Marriott employees are volunteering on site as part of Marriott’s Global Day of Service. They’re commitment to this project has been mind-blowing, and we are really appreciative of everything they are doing.
This is a true community/school partnership, and the playground will be open to the public. We are also looking for interested members of the community who can help maintain the playground and new landscaping after installation, as well as develop and offer programing, working in concert with the school.
We are about three weeks from Build Day, and there is a lot to be done! Any help from our awesome Brookland neighbors would be greatly appreciated. The most pressing need is fundraising. The project requires about $9,000 in contributions from the community and school to make it a reality. We have a little money raised so far, but need a lot more in a little amount of time! Anyone interested in donating a few bucks can do so really easily here. Donations are tax deductible.We also need donations of food and beverages for the Build Day since we need to take care of 250 volunteers for breakfast and lunch over three days. Anyone interested in contributing in this area can contact Rani Harrison (Brookland resident and MMBDA mom) at rani1(at)us(dot)ibm(dot)com as soon as possible. Another neighbor, Joe Finley at joefinleyiii(at)gmail(dot)com is coordinating tool donations – we need them for just a couple of days and will return them to you! We need lots of wheelbarrows and shovels.As May 15 gets closer we will share information on how neighbors can volunteer. Because the build day is so intensive and involves so many people, volunteers must be registered before the event and check in when they arrive. Unfortunately, drop-ins can’t be accommodated. We are assessing how many volunteers we will need and will reach out to the community when that is completed. Volunteer information will also be available at the school’s website.This project shows what is possible when our great Brookland community comes together with the help of great organizations and sponsors.