May 2nd, 2008
01:05 PM ET

A place to play

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my CNN career Wednesday, and it involved 40 children, about as many parents and some homemade jambalaya at a senior center in Louisiana.


"It starts with a playground" is the slogan for KaBOOM, a national non-profit organization that builds playgrounds. KaBOOM is our newest partner in the fight against childhood obesity. For those 40 kids, and even the parents in the room, it really does all start with a playground.

These children have been through more than most their age. Many of them are old enough to remember Hurricane Katrina just three years ago; and if they can't remember, the 5-foot-high water line on the trees at their local park still serves as an indicator of the storm's wrath. Wally Pontiff Jr. Park, known as Metairie Park before the storm, sat under 5 feet of water for close to two weeks. It sits just a few miles from Lake Ponchartrain, and a few hundred yards from the Mississippi River, putting it squarely in the flood zone.


That's where CNN Fit Nation comes in. For us, it started with a phone call to KaBOOM, and six months later I found myself sitting at this senior center, watching the kids draw their dream playground with crayons. From those drawings, the parents and I sat with KaBOOM staffers and picked the playground equipment that best fit the kids' drawings. Two months from now on June 28, we'll all meet in Metairie to build it, in a shade under 6 hours.

As the parents and adults thanked me for CNN's contribution to their community, I asked all of them for something in return – to use this new playground and to get their children moving and to teach them how to stay healthy well into adulthood.

Whether you're talking about keeping these kids healthy, revitalizing damage left in the wake of a tragic storm or the beginning of a great partnership with a non-profit organization – it really can all start with a playground.

KaBOOM's mission is to build a playspace within walking distance of every child in America. Do you want to help? Get information at www.KaBOOM.org, or check out www.CNN.com/Fitnation.

Editor's note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Laura R., Wheeling, WV

    Looking at the big old tree brought back a wonderful but sad memory of some great big shady oak trees that grew on school property, that me and about a million ofther kids used to play under. Well, my heart was broken when they tore them down to put up a playground. I hope that in the building of your playgrounds–a wonderful thing to do–that you never have to tear down another single tree. Kids need trees. That grove that I remember playing under was turned from a cool oasis into a desolate, scorching hot, mostly grassless field. All the swings were exposed to the sun, too. Nobody ever plays there now. So sad.

    May 3, 2008 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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  2. Cynthia Gentry

    Don't worry, Laura. I was on a KaBOOM! build in Bay St. Louis, Louisiana 3 months after Katrina leveled the town. There was a HUGE old oak in the middle of the build and it was well-cared for and made for a beautiful, beautiful playground .

    Matt, there are two playgrounds going into CNN's own back yard. The Atlanta Taskforce on Play comes out of KaBOOM's Playful City USA initiative and we're working on getting safe play into the English Avenue area just west of the Georgia World Congress Center. You may remember the sad news from the neighborhood last year when a 92-year-old woman was shot during a botched drug bust.

    Play impacts so many aspects of a child's health. We're excited about the possibilities ahead.

    I hope CNNers will come be a part of the playground builds this fall. Check out our winning KaBOOM! video starring CNN's own Fredericka Whitfield.


    May 5, 2008 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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  3. Al Spears

    Sounds like a great project and mission. Just wondering, why you chose that playground. It's populated by some of the most affluent members of the city. Sure they were flodded and folks around there lost their stuff, but I'm not sure if they are the most in need of your focus.


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  4. Cherie

    Thanks for this wonderful playground – my family was thrilled to be a part of the build process and my six month old daughter is thankful to everyone! She and her friends will enjoy this play area for many years.

    I would love a copy of the picture of all of the volunteers at the end (or near the end – us mulch monkeys still had work to do!). Is there any way to get one?

    Thank you!

    July 1, 2008 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.