The world of non-profit work can be a daunting one, but for David Webb, the owner of preschool and child care center The Well, it was a field he was eager to become a part of. With the addition of Elle Heiking to The Well team, Webb and his wife and co-owner Angélica Quintero Rodríguez launched a new nonprofit arm aimed at creating more play spaces across the world.
Since its recent beginnings, Global Playgrounds Inc. has been in the business of building connections.
“Last summer, our community was really struggling, both here in Madison and around the run the world really, but certainly the United States and I think everybody was certainly saddened by what they were seeing, hopefully, many people were inspired to take action and to do something to make a difference in their community,” said David Webb “And so we saw that as the right time to start the groundwork for how we can support our community and how we can start to bring all members of our community together in a safe space that unites us rather than dividing us. And so we see playgrounds as the perfect spot to do that.”
“That’s where the conversation start and the walls start to break down,” Heiking added.
“We spend our lives trying to teach kids and yet, they’re the ones that have this figured out,” Webb added.
As of this moment, Global Playgrounds has not yet received 501(c)3 status which would solidify their non-profit status (and will make any donation to them tax-deductible) but that has not stopped them from beginning their work in the community. Heiking noted that if Global Playgrounds is truly interested in helping communities, it is essential that grassroots efforts are made first “to build that credibility up.”
“We can come into a community and say we’re gonna do all these great things but we don’t have anything to back it up, people aren’t gonna jump on that on the wagon there,” Heisking said. “So just kind of prove to them that we’re here and if we can’t get the grants yet we’re gonna do something we’re gonna clean up parks, we’re gonna plant gardens, we’re gonna paint this fence until we can get those larger grants, and then come into the community and really start making those big impactful movements….The heart of everything we do will be the community and every playground will be unique, because every community is unique and their culture and their needs are all going to be different.”
“I think there’s sometimes skepticism of nonprofits [where] people want to know okay what is this money going to do for my community, like why are you how are you going to make a difference and I kind of prove it,” Webb added. “And so we want to show that we actually started before we had any money.”
As of this moment, Global Playgrounds is just in phase one of its six-phase plan. The goal of phase one is to “improve existing play spaces by cleaning them up, fixing and/or removing broken equipment.”
Global Playgrounds has already engaged in several park clean-ups around the city and will soon be partnering with Humana, a local insurance company, for their next clean-up event.
However, the organization’s top priority is to eliminate what they call play deserts, areas in which a community member is not within a 10-minute walk of a park.
“That’s just important because not everyone has cars…so many family members, they have to think far in advance before going to a park, like seeing if there’s a bus route and then thinking in advance what we have to bring to get there,” Heiking said. “So that just kind of hinders it and makes it not as fun of an experience and decreases their accessibility.
Beyond building playgrounds, Global Playgrounds. will also be working to revitalize play spaces that lack the resources to properly serve the community that surrounds it.
“[In Black and brown communities] the parks are sometimes half as big and serve five times as many people,” Heiking explained. “So if we go into a community and they say we have this park, and that’s great you have access to a park your community has a 10-minute walk to a park but that parks not working for your community, it needs to be bigger, it needs to have these different elements, that’s when we can come in and reform that park and kind of redesign it to meet those needs.
“We understand a playground can’t really solve all the problems,” Heiking continued. “We can put a playground there and it might be used, it may not be used. But the real solution is bringing resources to that playground. So, talking with the community members not just going and looking at it and being like, ‘oh I decided that you need this,’ so talking within the community and saying, what are the problems that you guys are facing? Are we in a food desert? Do we need to plant a community garden that’s free and accessible for all the community members here? Do we need to have a Wi-Fi hotspot so that you guys can come here and search for jobs or get work done? Just kind of rethinking the way we designed playgrounds, to be all-encompassing from infant to elder and be more than just a place to play but really for a community to gather.”
In addition, the organization will be issuing grants and scholarships to cover tuition at The Well, supporting those “who are falling through the cracks of support”, Webbs said.
The hope for Global Playgrounds’ future, as noted by Webb, is to actually make the global a reality
“When it comes to playgrounds specifically Madison is like top 10 in the country in terms of playground access,” Webb said. “So, we know there’s a need and we want this for more communities, way beyond Madison…so we’re looking at Oklahoma City and we’re going to talk to them and see what are their needs, what are the challenges that they’re facing and how can we support them.”
“We aspire to then [do] international work,” he added.
Webbs also mentioned that in the future, another branch of the organization will be added entities “Madison Plays Together” which would follow up on any playgrounds built or reformed to organize events that would “bring people together.”
“I think playgrounds, they’re overlooked, Heiking said. “As an adult I walk past them all the time but for a kid that a playground can be something different every single day and I think as we get older we kind of forget how much play can do for us, how much a stranger can become a best friend and offer us new insight into something we might have been struggling with.
“At the end of the day we’re all just a human, and we’re all just looking for that connection,” she continued. “So I think playgrounds are just a foundation for connection to really be formed, and it can really be a special place if we just as adults stop being so stubborn and allow ourselves to play again”