March 14, 2023

KABOOM! is Playing to Their Potential

Author Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz, Content Specialist

Play is at the heart of childhood and essential to healthy emotional, physical and social development.  Playgrounds set the scene for so many core memories and experiences—and they’re just plain fun. 

But not every child in the U.S benefits from easily accessible, high-quality playspaces. Between 70 and 80 percent of lower-income and BIPOC-majority census tracts lacked access to recreational facilities, as opposed to only 38 percent of predominantly white census tracts.  

One innovative nonprofit is dedicated to bridging the playspace equity gap. Over the past 25 years KABOOM! has built or improved over 17,000 playspaces across the country. “We team up with communities where children don’t have safe places to play, and because of our nation’s history of exclusion and disinvestment these are often communities of color,” says Carey Palmquist, the organization’s Chief Program Officer. 

Building the slides, swings and splash pads that make up the playspaces is a collaboration between community volunteers, professional installers, funding partner volunteers and KABOOM! But to ensure the playspace is a clear representation of the community it belongs to, the kids who will be playing there are invited to Design Days, where they’re given the opportunity to have their voices heard. And what the kids want, the kids will get. 

“Kids are the real experts when it comes to play. Playgrounds are one of the only public spaces designed with young people in mind, but the shame is that we don’t ask for their perspective or input. At a KABOOM! design day, kids get to weigh in on colors, equipment—everything! Seeing their vision come to life at the end of the project is really something special,” Palmquist explains.  

Individual donors—including NPT donors who support the KABOOM! mission using their DAFs—represent some of the most powerful funding we receive.

More than 11.8 million children have benefitted from KABOOM!’s work, and this impact goes far beyond the immediate benefits of play. “Creating equitable spaces for play is really an investment in the broader health of a community,” Palmquist says. “Kids need opportunities to grow and play in order to thrive, and decades of research show how connected active play is to mental, physical and social wellbeing.”  

This past spring, KABOOM! launched their 25 in 5 Initiative, an ambitious plan to raise $250 million to end playspace inequity in 25 locations throughout the U.S. over the next five years, beginning in Baltimore. Plans like the 25 in 5 Initiative wouldn’t be possible without consistent funding from passionate and engaged donors. Unrestricted grants are especially important.

“Individual donors—including NPT donors who support the KABOOM! mission using their DAFs—represent some of the most powerful funding we receive,” says Palmquist. “Donors acknowledging KABOOM! with this vote of confidence show us that they are on board with our vision and trust in our ability to direct resources to where they can make the greatest impact and are needed most acutely, whether that’s responding to communities in crisis, measuring our impact or moving our public policy agenda forward.”

Uvalde, Texas, where KABOOM! was invited to work with community members to build playspaces to promote healing after the devastating 2022 school shooting is a prime example. Donor support enabled KABOOM! to respond quickly to devastating events and the organization has been able to commit to building 12 more playspaces throughout the community in addition to their original build. 

KABOOM!’s mission is unique, collaborative and infuses a real joy for kids. But most importantly, it’s achievable. Palmquist believes that the end of playspace inequity is in sight. “We owe it to our young people to do whatever we can to build a more joyful, equitable world that gives them everything they need to thrive. This is a challenge we’re meeting head-on,” said Palmquist. “It’s both urgent and lifelong work, and I am convinced that it’s possible if we’re bold, visionary, and highly collaborative. We must be—our children are watching.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2019 with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.