More than 250 volunteers braved this year’s June heat to build — in just one day — a brand-new playground in the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership community Burch Avenue. The monumental effort was the final piece of a months-long drive by Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, Duke University, Durham Parks and Recreation, KaBOOM!, and the local community to bring a new playground to Durham.
“It was really a wonderful opportunity to see partnership and collaboration at its best,” said Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, Duke University’s Senior Neighborhood Partnership Coordinator and facilitator of the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project (QOL), which builds quality of life in Burch Avenue and five other neighborhoods.
The Burch Avenue playground project grew largely out of another KaBOOM! playground build Webb-Bledsoe helped to coordinate 10 years ago in Lyon Park, a QOL neighborhood. The partners in that project — Duke, the community, and Parks and Recreation — had so excellently maintained the playground that KaBOOM! representatives took notice when they visited it a year ago.
KaBOOM! invited Webb-Bledsoe to share the story of the Lyon Park playground’s long-term impact and sustainability at a national panel in Washington, D.C. That’s where she learned that KaBOOM! had decided to organize a new project in Durham.
Webb-Bledsoe returned to Durham and started spreading the word. The timing was perfect for Burch Avenue neighbors, who were working with the Duke University Facilities Management Department on incremental improvements for the neighborhood park. At the time, that meant new designs to promote walkability, and new sidewalks.
“When they found out about this new possibility, that they could have a walking path but also a brand-new playground to support the space, they were thrilled,” Webb-Bledsoe said.
As soon as partners for the Burch Avenue playground build were in place, KaBOOM! kicked off the planning process. Representatives from Blue Cross, Duke, Parks and Recreation, and the neighborhood met weekly to discuss progress and set new goals. A playground design day collected input and ideas from local adults and children. Community partners were lined up to provide food, and plans were laid to make the entire build trash-free.
“KaBOOM! was good 10 years ago; they are exceptional now,” Webb-Bledsoe said. “They have this thing down to a science. On the week of the build, we were ready.”
And it showed. On June 5, 2010, hundreds of volunteers worked steadily and efficiently as the playground, piece by piece, became a reality. A local DJ blared music to motivate the workers. Volunteers retreated to tents in shifts for their lunch breaks. And local children created colorful stepping stones and murals to make the playground their own.
“I think this is just fantastic,” said volunteer and Morehead Hills resident Ariane Vinson as her son, Mitchell, helped paint the mural. “The diversity that we have in Durham is represented today in helping to build this playground. It’s not just some charity coming in and doing this; it’s the community.”
Webb-Bledsoe said that will make all the difference in the long run.
“I know the community’s going to take care of that playground, because they helped make it happen.”