Volunteers hustle to keep warm and build a playground

By Kathleen Misovic
Tuesday was the second day of spring, but it was Old Man Winter who greeted the volunteers ready to build a playground in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

“To anyone who’s not used to Chicago, welcome to the windy city,” said William Burch, president of the Chicago Family Foundation, which partnered with the AAOS to build the playground on an empty lot near a church, elementary school and the Black Youth in Action community center. Wind chills during the day dipped into the 20s.

The new play lot features a tot lot, a mini climbing wall, monkey bars, and a large slide complete with a bridge and attached climbing bars. The equipment is accessible to children of all physical abilities and is recommended for children ages 2 to 12.

Gerald W. Pifer, MD, of Pittsburgh, helped fill the “Cadillac” wheelbarrow of AAOS First Vice President Richard F. Kyle, MD.

Cold doesn’t chill workers’ enthusiasm
“This is definitely the coldest one yet,” said Richard J. Mutty, MD, of Rome, N.Y., who said he has participated in about five playground builds. “But I don’t mind. We’re orthopaedic surgeons and we like to do hands-on projects like this. It’s a wonderful change of pace from our normal work and it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of people and help a community.”

Robert H. Sandmeier, MD, of Portland, Ore., was participating in his second AAOS playground build. His secret for staying warm? “Keep moving.” In his opinion, the cold wasn’t the hardest part of the build.

I’d say getting all the equipment set up and starting the work was the most challenging part of the day,” he said, while helping secure the playground equipment. “But since we got started, we’ve been cruising along.”

Dr. Sandmeier said he participates in the build because it is a way to leave something behind for the community. “The playground will be here long after I’ve gone home from the meeting,” he explained.

Richard A. Schaefer, MD, of Rockville, Md., was also participating in his second playground build, but it was the first time he stayed until the end of build day.

“It’s great to see the finished project after putting in all the work,” he said. “And the best part of the build is the camaraderie. As for the weather, it’s not so bad; it could be raining or snowing.”

Nader M. Hebela, MD, of Philadelphia, was participating in his first playground build, so he had no previous comparison for his experience. “It’s a little chilly, but I’m used to the cold,” he said, as he stood atop the slide platform, helping colleagues put the finishing touches on the equipment. “You could say the friendly group atmosphere here today is keeping me warm.”

Nader M. Hebela, MD, and Samir Mehta, MD, assember the slide.

Julie Brennan, an occupational therapist who is part of an orthopaedic practice in the Chicago area, said seeing the project come together was worth her frozen toes. She helped fasten nuts and bolts on the equipment, and distributed tools to other volunteers. “I think the kids will really enjoy this playground, especially the climbing wall,” she said.

As nearby schools let out for the day, many children gathered around the lot to watch the build for a little while before they made their way home. Several danced and sang along with the hip hop music played by a DJ. Between projects, some volunteers also moved with the music to keep warm.

Volunteers also took periodic breaks in the warming tent, where they enjoyed a variety of food, treats and drinks. They shared the tent with students from Walter Reed Elementary School, who used crayons and paper to create thank you notes for the volunteers.

A job for everyone
Volunteers could choose from a variety of projects, depending on their personal skills and comfort level. Those handy with tools kept busy hammering, drilling and fastening screws and bolts. Those who didn’t know the difference between Phillips and regular screwdrivers worked under the supervision of project managers from KaBOOM!


KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit organization that brings businesses and community groups together to develop playgrounds that are accessible to children of all physical abilities.

Several volunteers were on “concrete duty,” pushing wheelbarrows to the cement mixer to be filled, then wheeling them back to the equipment to be used for the foundation.

“I have it easy today; I have the Cadillac of wheelbarrows,” said a cement-splattered Richard F. Kyle, MD, AAOS first vice president, whose wheelbarrow had two wheels instead of one.

Volunteers with an artistic flair took brushes in hand to paint picnic tables and stencil designs on cobblestones to be laid in the ground. Those with a green thumb planted small fern trees around the edges of the lot, while others emptied potting soil into planters, so they’ll be ready for flowers when spring finally comes.

Other volunteers took on cleaning duty, wiping down the equipment with rags, raking the dirt and picking up trash on the lot.

A ceremony to warm the heart…and the feet
As the 4 p.m. building deadline approached, volunteers rushed to put the final touches on the playground before the dedication ceremonies began. They managed to get the equipment secured and cordoned off with safety netting so children wouldn’t play on it before the foundations dried.

Then members of the community, AAOS volunteers and children from the Black Youth in Action community group huddled together for warmth and speeches.

Burch urged the Englewood community to show their appreciation of the playground by taking care of the equipment and working to keep it a safe spot for children to gather without the influence of gangs.

“I hope the children of Englewood enjoy the playground and are safe while they are using it,” added Dr. Kyle. “I think it got built faster this year than ever before because everyone had to move quickly to keep warm.”

A young resident of Englewood, Jacqueline Robinson, took the microphone to thank the volunteers. “It’s because of you we now have a safe place to play,” Jacqueline said. She said in her heart she would dedicate the playground to the memory of a friend who was riding his bike on the street and was hit and killed by a car.

Alderman Arenda Troutman said the playground build had come at a good time to provide hope to a community that has seen two young girls killed in gang drive-by shootings this month.

“This community will heal, thanks in part to projects like this one today,” she said. “I’m so happy that everyone came together with the AAOS to complete this playground and I’d like to thank everyone for being so determined to see this project to the end.”

After the speeches, several members of the Black Youth in Action Dancers performed to a hip hop beat. The ceremony concluded when a member of the King High School marching band lifted 4-year old Ishonna West so she could cut the large red ribbon. After a final look at their accomplishment, volunteers headed toward the shuttle buses to take them back to the warmth of their hotels and the bustle of the Annual Meeting.


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