Community shows up and KaBOOM! there's a playground
As the sun came up over Black Mountain Primary on Oct. 6, there was a mostly empty spot along East State Street where an old playground used to be.
By 9 a.m. hundreds of members of the community were working in a coordinated effort with a single goal in mind: build a brand new KaBOOM! playground for the entire community by the afternoon.
The project started with a Build it With KaBOOM! grant, Jacob Stachler, project manager for KaBOOM! told the over 200 volunteers in attendance. But it came to the primary school, where a ribbon cutting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. the day construction began, through a series of community connections.
The grant is sponsored by international financial services provider Foresters Financial, which has helped fund over 150 playgrounds in North American since partnering with KaBOOM! in 2006.
International fraternal president of Foresters, Chris Stranahan, sales engagement manager Kaylie McCann and others from the company, volunteered at the build day in Black Mountain.
"It's part of our purpose," Stranahan said of Foresters' involvement in the Build it With KaBOOM! grant. "It's what we do everyday, and this company has been doing it for 144 years, giving back to local communities. Family well-being is at the core of what we do."
The YMCA of Western North Carolina partnered with Black Mountain Primary, where the nonprofit organization has operated an after-school program since 2006, to seek the grant. It's one way of showing how the Y is committed to the local community with the recent opening of the Black Mountain YMCA in Cheshire, said Paul Vest, president and CEO of the YMCA of WNC.
"The Black Mountain community has always been great," Vest said as he worked on a team assembling climbing features for the playground. "This was really an opportunity to be engaged and part of it."
Buncombe County Schools superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin, who worked with a group designing the basketball court, addressed the volunteers before the event began.
"We want to thank you all for coming here today and making this happen for our kids," Baldwin said.
Shane Lunsford, president of the Black Mountain PTO was the project's co-coordinator.
"We started in February by applying for the grant," he said. "We went through that process and found out we were awarded the grant in March. Normally this process is around six weeks, but it timed out where we had like six months."
During that time, Lunsford and a team of local volunteers received enough support that they were able to build even more than the KaBOOM! playground.
"The grant covered everything in a 50-by-56-foot square," he said. "We've put together a great team and were able raise over $30,000 in addition to the grant. So we're able to really update everything here."
Margaret Hurt was among the volunteers on that team. As the chair of volunteer recruitment, it was her job to find the 200 volunteers needed to complete the KaBOOM! plan on build day.
"We had a committee and we reached out to the schools in the Owen District, civic groups, churches, businesses and really worked to get the word out," she said. "We're especially thankful to Foresters, who not only funded the project but sent employees from other states to help build it."
The playground fills a big need in the community, said Hurt.
"When my son, who is in high school now, started kindergarten, we worked hard to establish a PTO (at Black Mountain Primary)," she said. "A playground was high on our wishlist early on."
But it proved to be out of reach, financially, Hurt said. The Build it With KaBOOM! grant was a "unique opportunity for us to reach that goal," she added.
Black Mountain Primary principal Malorie McGinnis said the day was an emotional one for her.
"To me and families that live in this community it's a dream come true," said McGinnis, who was working with a team on build day. "We all believe that kids learn through play and our playground needed to be updated.
"Being right here on the highway coming into town, this is a place we want people to stop to play or come to walk," McGinnis continued. "It's in the center of town, it's part of who we are in Black Mountain."