By DANIELLE LUNSFORD
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Wildwood Park was buzzing with excitement Friday as dinosaurs helped princesses plant trees and rubber ducks assembled playground equipment.
The playfully named groups were actually Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) employees, Job Corps representatives, firemen, police officers, teachers and community members volunteering six hours of hard work to build a brand new playground at Wildwood Park for Ottumwa children.
Chris Barnes, DPS director of corporate communication, described the atmosphere as enthusiastic during "Build Day."
"I think we’ve got so many different groups of volunteers from across the community, and it perfectly illustrates what a community is all about. People from across the town are doing something that is going to have a lasting legacy here," he said.
The Wildwood project is collaboration between the city of Ottumwa, DPS and KaBOOM!
KaBOOM! Project Manager Brenna Hull explains, "We are national nonprofit organization dedicated to something really simple, which is that all kids all over the United States need to play every day at home, in school and in their community in order to grow up to be happy and healthy adults."
After recognizing that one of the biggest challenges facing communities is raising funds, DPS created the "Let's Play" Initiative and partnered with KaBOOM! in 2011. The initiative is aimed at getting children and families up and active. The company has pledged to build 2,000 playgrounds across the United States, which will achieve its goal by getting more than three million children outside playing.
The project began 2 1/2 months ago when Ottumwa DPS plant manager Matt Rose saw the opportunity in a weekly internal newsletter and completed the application process. After receiving news that Ottumwa was selected to be one of 10 build sites, Rose began the most important step — organizing volunteers.
Fifty DPS employees were a driving force in making the project a reality. “These people have either ran their routes ahead, scheduled their sales course different, they did everything they needed to do to make sure that they could be here and be part of this today. The plant manager scheduled the lines so they didn’t have to run today, so that is why we picked the date that we did," explained Rose.
KaBOOM! worked to ensure that the project would become an important part of the community.
"About 2 1/2 months ago, I sat down with a whole lot of kids at a local school and talked to them about how they like to play, why it’s important to them and they drew their idea of a dream playground. From those designs, we came up with three unique custom designs and then the community voted on which one they wanted to see," Hull said.
Community was something that could not only be felt but also seen Friday as hundreds of community members busily rushed around pouring cement, giving the park a fresh paint coat and carrying mulch by the tarp full to the playground site. Volunteer Peg Campbell explained she was on site because of the importance of play. "Play is vital with a capital 'V.' It's when kids learn to be creative and hone in those creative thoughts,” she said.
That sense of community made choosing Ottumwa a simple decision for DPS. "Ottumwa was an easy choice because we have a very large corporate presence here in the community, so it made perfect sense," said Barnes.
KaBOOM! had its own reasons for choosing Ottumwa. "The wonderful thing about this specific project is that Dr Pepper Snapple employees here are also community members; they live and work here," explained Hull.
Ottumwa High School senior Kasidee Henderson spent her day entertaining some of those same kids that drew the original design. Henderson volunteered her day because of her belief in importance of play in a community. She said, "The atmosphere is full of fun; you can feel it. The organization and planning that they had coming into this is outstanding because it will be done in one day."
As the six hours came to an end, volunteers wiped sweat from their brows and gave their shovels a much-deserved break while the stereo played Pilot's 1970s hit song "Magic." The site began to feel magical. After only six hours and the help from an entire community, Wildwood park is now the home to Ottumwa's newest park.
The Parks Department would like to remind the community that although the playground is now completed, it will not be ready for children to use until Monday morning.
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Dedication of playground Monday There will be a dedication for the new playground at Wildwood Park at 11 a.m. Monday. The playground will be opened to the public at that time. According to the city, 365 volunteers registered to help Friday. The project wrapped up about an hour and a half ahead of schedule.