KaBOOM! Whitehall playground built in six hours
Khara Timsina wiped the sweat off his brow as he pushed a wheelbarrow filled with concrete across the colorful playground.
Upbeat tunes blared in the background as nearly 350 volunteers helped to install the bright orange racer slides, swings and climbing walls in the forest-theme playground at Wallace Park in Whitehall on Saturday.
Six hours later — and 160 cubic yards of mulch moved by hand across the lot — and the playground was ready for action — well, after three days of settling.
“I'm very excited to build a new playground for our children,” said Damberi Regmi, 25, a native of Bhutan who spent most of her life in a Nepali refugee camp before coming to the United States in 2008.
“Things were so different there.”
Nonprofit South Hills Interfaith Ministries, or SHIM, based in Bethel Park, and Economic Development South partnered with the borough of Whitehall to construct the KaBOOM! playground at the Whitehall park, nestled in the rear corner of the Whitehall Place apartment complex, where a large number of refugees reside. The project was funded through the Jefferson Regional Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.
Volunteers came out from local churches, schools and the community to help install the play equipment, which includes a special play space for children ages 2 to 5 years old, with swings for the toddlers, something the playground lacked before, said SHIM executive director Jim Guffey.
“It's really representative of the South Hills as a whole,” Guffey said. “Across the South Hills, people really came out.”
The 50-foot-by-70-foot playground is geared for children ages 2 to 12 years old.
“There's a job for everyone,” said Eilah Brown, project manager from KaBOOM!'s Washington, D.C., office. “All of the wood is being cut by hand.”
The project also served as an “enhancement project,” in which volunteers constructed picnic tables, placed new trash containers in the park and painted lines for hopscotch and four square on the basketball court, Brown said.
KaBOOM!, a national organization that promotes play, participates in three to four “community build” playgrounds a week, depending on the time of the year, Brown said.
“We love play. Play is a brain expander, a muscle expander,” Brown said.
Youths living in Whitehall Place helped to design the new playground.
More than 400 children live in the housing complex, said Whitehall recreation director Kelly Joyce. Children who live in the surrounding area and athletic groups that use the nearby ball field also will use the playground, she said.
“It's so creative. It would be a kid's dream,” Joyce said. “It went up like clockwork.”
The playground replaces an older jungle gym that was torn down to make way for the KaBOOM! play space. About 200 of the 350 volunteers were refugees.
“This is the most amazing experience I've ever been involved in,” Joyce said. “To watch this many people come together for their community is an inspirational thing.”
Whitehall has had a large population of refugees dating back to the 1990s, many of whom live in the complex. The refugees come mostly from Bhutan and Myanmar, formerly Burma, while others have moved here from Burundi, Sudan, Turkey, Bosnia, Russia and Iraq.
The latest U.S. Census showed that 13 percent of Whitehall's nearly 14,000 residents speak a language other than English at home.
Growing up in Bhutan, Timsina, 44, now a Baldwin Borough resident, waited in long lines to ride on the one swing that was assembled during the monthlong festival season in his village for the 700 children to use.
“As kids, we used to play in the wild, wherever we had open spaces. Nobody quite thought about the safety of children there,” said Timsina, who fled to Nepal where he lived in a refugee camp from 1992 to 2009 when he moved to the United States. At the camp, there were no playgrounds.
“This is something new,” Timsina said.
The plan is to build a pavilion at the park this fall, Guffey said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or [email protected].