When the kids of the Druid Hills neighborhood in Charlotte, NC, left for school one Thursday morning, a pile of dirt and concrete loomed in the lot across the street. When they arrived home that afternoon, a beautiful, colorful playground sparkled in the sun.
It wasn't magic, but it was a magic moment of community cooperation between local families, city leaders and members of the Charlotte police department. They worked together to build a playground, and to heal the community through play.
The Druid Hills playground came to fruition thanks to an effort called Healing Communities Through Play™, an extension of Charlotte's GameTime representative Cunningham Recreation. The concept is simple: rebuild trust between communities and police departments by building a playground.
"It’s a small idea, but one that can hopefully change negative perceptions and have a positive impact on our local communities," said Officer Chelsea Kidder, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Fifteen officers worked with community members, many of whom had lived in Druid Hills 60 years, that Thursday afternoon, pouring concrete, tightening bolts, lifting play system panels, raking wood fiber -- and building trust and communication. One man had a cane in one hand and a rake in the other.
One such moment of building trust came when children saw Zeke, a ferocious-looking German shepherd police dog. They wanted to pet him, but Zeke's appearance was frightening. Officers assured the children they could pet Zeke, that Zeke wouldn't hurt them. One by one they began to pet Zeke, smiling and laughing as they became acquainted with a new canine friend. More importantly, the children became acquainted with local police officers and trusted them. That's the concept behind Healing Communities Through Play™ -- build trust through shared pleasures, like playgrounds and dogs.
This year, Healing Communities Through Play™ will also help build a playground in East St. Louis, Missouri, Oklahoma City, and Rockford, Illinois. The initiative helps communities raise funds -- for instance, school kids are hosting a pep rally this month to raise funds for the east St. Louis project.
"We truly hope to see these projects begin to take hold and pop up in numerous cities across the country,” says Victoria Schmidt Babb, Director of the Play 4 ALL™ Campaign. “It’s time to work together for a common goal, and mend what is broken for the betterment of our communities and our children."
Interested in Healing Communities Through Play™? Learn more, and check out some of the projects at www.play4allcampaign.com