16th and Haak Playground It all began back in 2011. A teacher from 16th & Haak Elementary School reached out to us about choosing that playground as one of our projects. Due to layoffs within the school district that year, we lost touch with the school and our focus moved on to other projects for the next few years. It wasn’t until 2013 when we found ourselves back at 16th & Haak Elementary School picking up petitions from the children, requesting a new playground and pledging to take care of it if they had one. The community playground across the street from the school, and surrounded on three sides by homes, was nothing but grass, a deteriorated basketball court with graffiti, a few park benches, and a steel frame where a swing set once was. The grass at the playground was overgrown. There were no plants or flowers. The blockhouse was a muted grey with graffiti throughout.
We immediately got to work obtaining permission from the school district to proceed with the project, then securing a grant from KaBOOM!, a nationwide nonprofit aimed at providing play within walking distance of every child in the United States, as well as funding from Kautter & Kelley Architects, the Reading Royals Charities Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation, and the Gulati Family Foundation. We then went to visit the school in 2 teams, under the guise of doing research for our friend, Andy, owner of General Recreation, Inc. We told the kids Andy wanted to learn what kids in Reading wanted in their playgrounds so he could design ones that the kids would like, during his next few playground projects. The kids were presented with Our Dream Playground papers, crayons, markers, and colored pencils to create their dream playground. Principal Traci Webb encouraged the students to “dream in color.” All the while, they had no idea those exact designs would be used to create their dream playground.
Our team went back to 16th & Haak Elementary School on April 30th holding an assembly for all 600 students. We announced to the kids, along with Slapshot from the Reading Royals, that we were there to tell them that they were getting a NEW PLAYGROUND! The kids and staff were excited beyond belief! The screaming and cheering lasted until Principal Webb finally had to tell them to stop! After that, we began going door to door in the neighborhood talking to residents about the project and asking for their commitment to the new playground.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we began prepping for the community playground build. The students and families at 16th & Haak Elementary School and some of you, attended a Rita’s fundraiser to support the project. Plans for the community build and equipment delivery were put into place. Unloading the playground equipment from the flatbed truck that delivered it was quite a feat. Like usual, we got it done with the help of several volunteers in the middle of their work day. Over the course of a week, it was quite common to find Andy, the owner of General Recreation, in the park with a jackhammer and other heavy equipment, getting the area ready for it’s new equipment. Sal’s Landscaping could also be seen doing magic on the playground and it quickly began to show signs of life.
All of our efforts culminated on Saturday, June 28th when over 200 volunteers and supporters converged on the 16th & Haak Playground. The volunteers and community members assembled and installed the new playground equipment, painted the fence, watched as SportBuilders resurfaced and relined the basketball court and kickball area, repainted the park benches, put a fresh coat of paint on the blockhouse, followed by a design by Mrs. Blatt, the art teacher, and planted flowers and bushes. After that, we moved on to the task of moving the mulch into the playground area. We’re talking 2.5 tractor trailers full of mulch. It seemed like it was neverending! We eventually called it a day. As we were pulling away from the new 16th & Haak Playground, all we heard was laughter. What we saw, a playground full of kids instantaneously, made all of our efforts worth it.
Revitalizing parks and playgrounds is much, much more than just equipment and what happens on the “big day.” It’s a way of bringing communities together for a common goal. That is what the Gilmore | Henne Community Fund stands far, and our mission was accomplished once again at the 16th & Haak Playground on June 28, 2014. In the weeks to follow we implemented programming at the 16th & Haak Playground, including G|H Summer Camp and the our very first youth basketball clinic. We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without the help of hundreds of people, local businesses, organizations and individuals just like you giving selflessly to better our community. THANK YOU!
View photos of the project using the gallery below or click here to check out all of our photo albums on Facebook.