Safe Playground program encourages families to stay fit and healthy
Select Health of South Carolina and AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership today led more than 75 volunteers as they built a new playground adjacent to the Chicora Place Community Garden in North Charleston, providing a safe and fun space for children to play. It is the 11th playground that AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership has built since 2011 as part of its Safe Playground program, and the second in this state. Select Health offers the First Choice Medicaid health plan to South Carolina residents and is part of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies.
“Like the families in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood, we have been looking forward to this day for many months,” said Select Health Executive Director Cindy Helling. “This playground became a reality thanks to the support of strong partners and a welcoming community that told us how we could best meet the needs of the families who live here.”
The 2,300-square-foot playground is located at 3107 North Carolina Avenue, and while there will be some parking available, it is intended to serve the immediate area with most visitors walking there. Construction started by 8:30 a.m. and finished this afternoon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and musical performance by local children. A neighborhood-organized community celebration featuring a potluck dinner and outdoor movie concluded the day’s activities.
While the “playground build” only took one day, the project involved a great deal of planning by a grass-roots coalition that included the City of North Charleston, Metanoia Community Development Corporation, Charleston Promise Neighborhood and other supporters. Community members were actively engaged in the process, with children picking the playground’s color scheme and some of the equipment.
“By providing safe spaces to play, we can help prevent injuries while also encouraging children and their families to stay physically fit and socially connected,” said Maria Pajil Battle, president of ACP. “Our experience has shown us that a playground is a fantastic way to keep kids and the community healthy.”
Founded by AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership works to address health disparities through community initiatives that promote health, wellness and overall quality of life. ACP works with AmeriHealth Caritas health plans, such as Select Health, to build playgrounds in communities where high percentages of children are living at or below the poverty level. In 2012, AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership and Select Health led a playground build at Pinehurst Park in Columbia, their first effort in South Carolina.
The Chicora playground features two benches dedicated in honor of Sister Kathleen Long, manager, mission services, and Sister Renee Yann, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer, both of AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies and longtime advocates for the underserved. Both women are also members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
Designed primarily for ages 5 to 12, the playground also includes slides, monkey bars and a climbing wall. In addition to a four-person seesaw, neighborhood children picked out spring toys in the shapes of a tractor, airplane and motorcycle, and selected blue as the playground’s main color. The handicapped-accessible playground has the approval of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society of Testing Materials. Volunteers spread 57.5 tons of mulch at the base to help prevent injuries.
The City of North Charleston is providing the land, fencing, parking and ongoing maintenance of the grounds and equipment. The city also provided the land for the Chicora Place Community Garden, which was launched in 2011. “I see tremendous things happening here with the playground and the garden side by side,” said Recreation Director Ed Barfield. “This is a fantastic rallying point for our community.”
Everyone involved agrees that the location will help pull people in, partly because adults can tend to the garden while watching over the children as they play. In fact, community members have wanted to add a playground in this spot for a while, and that buy-in is important, according to the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia.
The Rev. Stanfield and his wife established Metanoia in 2003 to help revitalize the Chicora-Cherokee area, which has a history of hardship that was compounded by the closure of the Charleston Naval Base in the mid ‘90s. The literal translation of “metanoia” from the Greek means “with understanding,” and the organization has always sought input, collaboration and leadership within the community while promoting initiatives such as the community garden. “By involving folks with the playground at this level, there’s a greater sense of ownership and a greater likelihood that the playground will be well cared for and well used,” the Rev. Stanfield said.