by Sarah Tompkins ’10
It’s a feeling that’s nearly impossible to describe – that fleeting trip down the chute of a slide; the anxiety in the pit of your stomach as you jump from rock to rock, eluding lava. For a five year old, a playground is a realm of infinite possibilities: a pirate ship, a space station on a collision course with an unexplored planet, a mansion with twisting staircases and hidden rooms. To put it very simply, it is magic.
It is this magic that Hobart and William Smith and the Geneva community sought to ignite in the community’s children with a project rooted in collaboration: the Geneva Lakefront Community Playground. Perched just next to Seneca Lake, the play set occupies a prominent place between Routes 5&20 and the Long Pier.
“What better backdrop than the shore of Seneca Lake to demonstrate a community working together?” asked City Manager Mathew Horn as he stood before the giant ribbon at the official opening of the space. “This playground represents the best of Geneva.”
Indeed, the neon slides and intricate twists of rope symbolize the labor of more than 250 HWS and Geneva community members who worked to install the playground, the impressive collaboration among the City, the Colleges and the Geneva Community Projects committee.
Previously, the Colleges helped to build a new playground at West Street Elementary School with national playground building initiative KaBOOM! in the fall of 2011 – and renovated two more. The experience was so successful that the Colleges hoped to take on a similar project at a much larger scale.
“Play is critical to the success of children,“ says Darrell Hammond, the founder and CEO of KaBOOM! “When children can play in a free environment, they will build important tools for adulthood, such as leadership and diplomacy.”
So, working together, the Colleges and the entire Geneva community began fundraising for a centrally located and large playground.
During the process, Geneva was named a “2012 Playful City USA” community by the KaBOOM! organization. The Let’s Play group, a community partnership led by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to get kids and families active nationwide, awarded the community a $20,000 grant to be used toward the project – one of only two granted in New York State.
“No one’s doing what Geneva’s doing,” explains President Mark D. Gearan. “Working together in a collaborative spirit, we did this together. It’s what this community is becoming known for.”
Belinda Venuti, president of Geneva Community Projects, echoed these sentiments, praising the strength of the shared effort. “We did this collectively; we worked alongside students, community members and government employees – and not just in the construction, but in the planning process – to accomplish a major goal. Many of us made new friends,” explains Venuti. “I drive by the lakefront every day, and even in the cold weather, I see kids and families enjoying the playground; and I think it is just going to get busier.”
Students came in droves on the build date in mid-October, eager to create a meaningful space. Members of the Hobart basketball team did heavy lifting, and William Smith lacrosse were the last volunteers to leave, with only the car headlights of volunteers to light their work. “I like to believe that these students will always remember how they worked together to make this happen,” says Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Katie Flowers. “I hope when they come back for Reunion, they will return to the playground and tell their own children ‘yes – I built that.’”
“Although we are constantly at work with Geneva – through mentorships, tutoring and volunteer work – I think this is particularly impactful because it is tangible,” explains Flowers. “It is a physical resource that is for the entire community – regardless of income; it is for everybody.”
With the playground fully constructed and a daily crowd of enthusiastic children climbing the complicated twists of the ‘double bobble rider,’ the space remains a canvas of continued growth. Before construction even broke ground, the initial $100,000 goal was exceeded, and revised to make an expansion of the project possible. Already, two more pieces have been fully funded, with a goal of five unique additions this spring.