December 2002 Bulletin

Oregon orthopaedists build safe, accessible playground

By Carolyn Rogers

Today, children in southeast Portland, Ore., have access to a beautiful, new safe and accessible playground, thanks to the commitment of the Oregon Association of Orthopaedists (OAO).
A hard day's work pays off as children, orthopaedists and other volunteers in Portland, Ore., admire the colorful new playground

Back in March 2000, when the Academy built its first safe, accessible playground in Orlando, Fla., Michael B. Vessely, MD, was serving as OAO president.

"That project inspired me to try to build a similar playground here in Portland," he says. "We [the OAO Board] decided to make it our own board project."

Two-and-a-half years of effort later, the playground is now a reality. On Sept. 28, 2002, more than 60 volunteer orthopaedists and 60 parents gathered at Bridger Elementary School in southeast Portland to participate in the playground construction.

The playground was patterned after the Academy’s previous playgrounds, featuring rubberized surfaces, wheel chair accessible ramps, slides, climbing and balancing activities, play stations for imaginary activities and more.

Raising funds

Of course, getting from the "inspiration" stage to the "realization" stage took more than a little perseverance and hard work.

St. Vincent’s Hospital Medical Foundation donated the initial $50,000 that got the project off the ground.

"It took eight months just to get the initial $50,000 approved," Dr. Vessely says. "Then we had to get other corporations to donate."

The OAO worked on the project with KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization that leads teams of individuals, organizations and businesses in building safe playgrounds ( The OAO found the playground site with KaBOOM!’s assistance.

"It was a very appropriate choice," Dr. Vessely says. "The school has a classroom for disabled children and a special learning center. They were very enthusiastic about the project. I believe this playground is the only one like it in the Portland school district."

Parents raise $20,000

"Including the corporate donations, our donations totaled about $80,000," Dr. Vessely reports. "Parent groups donated the remaining $20,000. The parents raised the money though various bake sales, fundraisers, and other donations."

"No hitches"

The actual construction of the playground went off without a hitch, Dr. Vessel reports.

"I can’t stress enough the importance of working with KaBOOM!" he says. "They worked out all the hitches beforehand, so the day went great. We started at 9 a.m. and the playground was built by 3 p.m."

Dr. Vessely heartily encourages other orthopaedic groups to organize their own playground projects.

"It was really worth it," he says. "The school and the kids were tremendously appreciative, and the whole project was very well received. Those of us who worked on it were very happy with results."

Words of advice

Dr. Vessely offers three pieces of advice to groups undertaking a similar project:

  1. "Work with KaBOOM!"
  2. "Be sure to devote someone’s full efforts to the P.R. aspects. We were so focused on the money and construction details that we didn’t coordinate the publicity very well."
  3. "Be prepared to grind it out over the long haul."

"It’s definitely worth the effort," he says. "We plan to use this playground as a model for another project—to show potential donors what we accomplished. We’re definitely going to try to do another one."

See Pitch in at the New Orleans playground build! for information on volunteering at the AAOS 2003 Playground Build in New Orleans.

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