AAOS playground build takes Chula Vista by storm

AAOS playground build takes Chula Vista by storm

By Peter Pollack

Early morning rain wasn’t enough to stop more than 600 adults and 200 children from showing up for the 2007 AAOS Playground Build, which took place Tuesday at Eucalyptus Park in Chula Vista, Calif.

The day began with several busloads of volunteers being dropped off at the park. As the workers disembarked, they were greeted with coffee, rolls, fresh fruit and of course, release forms. They milled about for a bit, taking the opportunity to talk and get to know one another or renew old acquaintances, while workers from KaBOOM! (they like to be called Boomers) organized a few small preliminary projects such as moving raw materials into position for the flurry of activity that was about to take place.

At about 8 a.m., project manager and lead Boomer Jennifer DeMelo pulled together a preselected group of team leaders to hand out tools and gave them a few tips on how to handle their troops. The leaders were given purple smocks and funny headgear to make them easy to spot amid the hundreds of volunteers—a hat shaped like a roasted turkey and another shaped like the top of Elvis’ skull were among the more memorable ones. They were then sent back into the crowd for a last chance at the donuts and coffee before the official kickoff.

By 8:30 a.m., the crowd had reached a critical mass and DeMelo, microphone in hand, rallied the volunteers to the empty section of park to begin the morning announcements. The park has been designed by the local kids, she explained, making the build a true community effort between the city of Chula Vista and the AAOS volunteers. She encouraged everyone to work safely, then ceded the stage to Buck Martin, Director of Recreation for the city, who led the group through a short and funny stretching routine. With the workers warmed up and ready to go DeMelo called up the team leaders.

The name tags the volunteers had been given all possessed small stickers on the front—a Care Bear, a penguin, a pair of flip-flops and other whimsical cartoons. Those stickers corresponded directly to posters held up by the team leaders. Instead of precipitating a chaotic discussion among volunteers about what job they’d like to do or who they’d prefer to work with, the Boomers had craftily assigned every one to groups without their realizing it. As the posters were held up proudly for all to see, the mass of volunteers spun off into merely mildly chaotic brigades and began building the playground.

AAOS President Richard F. Kyle, MD, and Second Vice President E. Anthony Rankin, MD, adjust a new bench in the Chula Vista playground.

A playground rises from the earth

The sections of the playground equipment bore names sure to inspire any child to have more fun. Various crews worked on the Spiral Climber, Angled Cliff Hanger, and V-bounce. Construction of the basic parts went fairly quickly, and by 9:15 a.m. several colorful structures had begun to take shape where there had been barren earth only an hour before.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the AAOS Playground Build is the camaraderie. Rarely has a construction site been so full of good cheer. Although the children at the build (and there were many) found themselves sequestered for safety reasons to the far side of Eucalyptus Park, the adult representatives from AAOS, numerous specialty societies, industry vendors and neighborhood volunteers kept their high spirits and good nature, even in the face of what must have been several frustrating moments throughout the day when playground equipment proved uncooperative.

One volunteer, Jeff M. Smith, MD, of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA), dove into the project wholeheartedly. As a native of San Diego, he not only participated in the preliminary arrangements to get the playground off the ground, but brought about 15 other physicians from the OTA with him on build day. Additionally, Dr. Smith encouraged another 15 or 20 people from Balboa Naval Medical Center, many of whom are orthopaedic residents, to assist. “It’s contagious. I started three years ago, and each time I’m trying to get a little more involved because this is so much fun,” Dr. Smith explains.

James P. Tasto, MD, and Norman Y. Otsuka, MD, digging post holes.

Tony Gwynn, Baseball Hall of Famer, with AAOS First Vice President James H. Beaty, MD.

Change in the community

“This was a park where people didn’t usually come,” explains Henry G. Chambers, MD, who was also involved in the preliminary work and brought along a large contingent from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “There wasn’t much going on, and I think this is really going to change this community.”

That change may have already begun. In a neighborhood made up primarily of lower-income residents and commercial buildings, the playground build attracted everyone from local public services employees to workers from a nearby electronics store. More than one vehicle was spotted driving down the street during the day, the driver honking and waving at the volunteers. For the surgeons who flew in early to participate in the build, that kind of feeling makes it all worthwhile.

The playground has already attracted its share of celebrities. Baseball Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn stopped by to provide encouragement to the builders, as did San Diego Chargers wide receiver Kassim Osgood. Additionally, two members of the rock band P.O.D. showed up, unannounced, just to spend the day working.

“I think it’s great, people getting involved in the community,” says E. Anthony Rankin, MD. “It seems like it’s a very daunting task, but once you’re here and you start to get your hands dirty, it becomes a lot more fun when you see the smiles on the kid’s faces.”

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