Starkville”s commitment to improving the quality and quantity of play access for children paid off Monday with the city”s selection as one of 151 “Playful City USA” Communities.
Nonprofit group KaBOOM!, which helps create play spaces through the participation and leadership of communities, gives “Playful City USA” recognition to communities each year for their efforts to increase play opportunities for children.
Starkville was one of 49 first-time recipients of the designation and joins Petal, Hernando, Horn Lake and Senatobia as Mississippi”s designated communities.
Communities apply for the designation each year, and if selected can apply to receive KaBOOM! grants that range from $1,000 to $30,000.
Citizens formed the Play Task Force, which featured Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, Starkville School District Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin and Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye, among others, to organize action plans to improve play access to achieve the designation. Some plans were long term, while others, like the recently completed $20,000 GoPlay pavilion project at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary, were planned to boost Starkville”s credentials for earlier designation.
“Quality play spaces improve the health and well-being of our community,” Wiseman said. “With obesity rates soaring, it is increasingly important for us to focus on making it as easy as possible for our citizens to exercise regularly.”
The GoPlay Initiative, founded by Heather Carson, began as a grassroots community campaign and has grown into a citywide effort to improve access to play. In addition to the pavilion at Henderson Ward Stewart, the program and its volunteers have created a new playground and learning garden for the SSD.
“We have the opportunity to provide more playspaces in Starkville for all residents and I am thankful for the level of commitment and enthusiasm we continue to see from our community leaders,” said Carson, co-chairperson of the Starkville Play Task Force.
In the spring, the task force will form a Starkville Parks Foundation to allow citizens to make tax-deductible donations to improve and expand public parks.
“We do have needs in our parks,” Rye said. “There”s some, like McKee Park, that are used heavily and could use new equipment. Then there are some, like J.L. Evans and McKee Park that need to be updated. Hopefully, this will give us an opportunity to do that without coming out of our own budget.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children today spend less time playing outside than any other generation, partly because only 20 percent live within walking distance of a park or playground.
“The play deficit continues to harm our children and stifle their mental and physical development, while directly facilitating the ongoing childhood obesity crisis,” said Darell Hammond, KaBOOM! founder and CEO. “These 151 Playful City USA communities have joined KaBOOM! in making a collective statement that we will no longer accept the misconception that play is a luxury when the reality is that play is an absolute necessity for children. Starkville is committed to the well-being of children and serves as an outstanding role model for the rest of America as we continue to strive toward the KaBOOM! vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child.”