From Minority Reporter

At 14 years old, Kayshawna Evans already knows there’s a lot each person can do to help neighbors and the neighborhood.

“I want people to be more open to their community,” said Kayshawna, who was among dozens of teens who put their brains and their brawn to work in creating an adventure play space on Grand Avenue.

The park won’t be ready for use until Aug. 26 and an official opening celebration is planned from 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 16.

Nevertheless, at a ribbon-cutting Aug. 14 to mark the final stages of Grand Avenue Park, Kayshawna was beaming at all that had been accomplished.

“My heart is really happy to see that we built something so beautiful that other kids can be able to play and be a part of the experience as well,” she said after the event. “Hopefully, it will be there for a long time.”

The play space was scheduled to be developed last year, but like everything else was delayed by COVID-19.

Grand Ave Park is a collaboration among the city, which donated the land, the Beechwood/EMMA neighborhoods and ROC the Future, Healthi Kids and Connected Communities.

The planning involved each organization, but most importantly it included opinions of the many users – teens.

More than 400 young people participated in some fashion. Some answered survey questions about what they’d like in a play space devoted to their needs and others participated in Zoom calls to hash out details. Core groups were on committees to plan the work and to install the equipment.

“It was really important and a really strong, powerful process,” Evans said of having adults cede their power. “If they didn’t believe in us and give us an option or a choice to help build the playground, we wouldn’t be able to build the playground or even have what we wanted in the playground.”

The space, which is adjacent to a traditional playground for toddlers and young children, is different from other play areas. It has an adventuresome theme and obstacle-style apparatus that challenges teens’ mental and physical agility.

Grand Avenue Park accommodates different needs, with an oversized xylophone and drums.

“One of the things that came up was, ‘what are we missing?’” said Tanishia Johnson, a consultant with ROC the Future.

Planners thought about children on the autism spectrum and the connections between music, touch and learning.

“If I’m a parent or caregiver of a child with special needs, can I come here and see my child or the child I’m caring for,” Johnson said. “That was crucial in doing this, making sure we’re mindful of being inclusive, and when we speak to equity, that there’s equity in playing and learning.”

The project was led by Kaboom, a national nonprofit that works to create equity in play spaces. The Beechwood/EMMA neighborhood was chosen after discussions among the local partners about which parts of the city in particular lacked play space for teens.

According to the city, Kaboom awarded a $300,000 grant for the project. Kaboom also supplied a project manager to oversee all the work.

Nalgene provided a $10,000 grant and ROC the Future had a $3,500 grant.

With the initial goal of building the playground almost completed, the next step is to add programming that serves teens in other ways.

“Right now we’re at play space 1.0,” Johnson said. “2.0 is about sustainability. It’s the restorative conversation. It’s community building and community co-powerment. How do we, with the power we have in the community, reimagine how community looks with this incredible play space and making it a space for education in terms of not just literacy and school readiness but in terms of the life skills education that young people need.”

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