Lending Some Hands for Kid'n Play Akihisa Shiozaki (WG'10, Build Captain) Contributing Writer
"It was 4pm, far past the scheduled deadline. Sweat, heat, and the smell of tons of mulch filled the air. But no one was complaining or leaving the grounds, as hundreds of blue t-shirts closed in on their final efforts to complete the construction of the children's dream playground. The historic event reached its climax with the celebration of a tape cutting ceremony, symbolized by a beautiful tape ring handcrafted by the Wissahickon school children in expression of their delight and appreciation.
In the early morning of August 16, 190 volunteers from the Wharton Class of 2010 gathered outside the Wissahickon Charter School in northeast Philadelphia. Wharton partnered with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play back into the lives of children, to transform an asphalt parking lot into a magnificent playground which the children had longed for. After a hot, long day of intensive construction work, Wharton volunteers, together with many Wissahickon parents and local volunteers, roared in sensation to celebrate the completion of the dream playground.
The project sprouted back in Fall 2007 when two community service reps Steven Engelbrecht (WG'09) and Sushant Mukherjee (WG'09), approached the MBA Program Offi ce to propose a new development in the Wharton community service experience: a proposal to take Wharton's engagement one step further from the traditional monetary charity donation to something more actionoriented. With the additional student support from the socially focused new WGA board, the MBA Program Offi ce quietly started looking into possible new opportunities for such social service activities.
After several months of struggle, the idea was suddenly incarnated in May 2008, when Wharton was introduced to KaBOOM! by Wharton-alum Randall Weisenburger (WG'87), Executive Vice President and CFO of Omnicom, who had worked with the unique NPO on several projects in the past. In an ambitious attempt to complete the playground by the start of the children's school year in September, Wharton, KaBOOM! and Wissahickon quickly formed a strong coalition, which would join in conference calls every Monday afternoon sorting out all the details of the construction. Looking back at the extensive joint efforts, Deputy Vice Dean Peggy Bishop Lane who led the Wharton initiative says: "It was hard work, but good work."
In June, 400 Wissahickon children were given the opportunity to engage in a classroom workshop to draw out their personal ideal playgrounds. With a generous $125,000 donation from the Weisenberger family, the playground was designed to reflect all of the Wissahickon children's dreams: a 15ft sky tower, four slides, two rock climbing walls, a cloud walk, a giant play web, a brand new basket ball court and more. "No doubt, it's the maverick of playgrounds," says Todd Mazza, a representative from KaBOOM!
The morning kicked-off with a DJ spinning off the latest R&B tunes from two giant speakers. Leadership was in action. Over 200 volunteers, including local neighbors and parents, all dressed up in uniform blue t-shirts, split up into small working groups each headed by one of the ten build captains, who had volunteered to take on a responsive role engaging in the "digging and drilling" prep work for the big day. The working groups actively took on different responsibilities simultaneously; while some scrambled on their knees painting the blue basketball court, others lined up their trolleys to carry splashing loads of mixed cement. Those who completed their designated responsibilities early stepped forward to lend a hand to others in need of help. No one was waiting for instructions, but instead was actively searching for ways to contribute the most. "As a build captain, we really didn't have to do anything but provide basic information," said Oliver Ardery (WG'10). "Everyone was a leader."
Volunteers meeting for the fi rst time were quickly forming strong bonds through teamwork. Pre-term Wharton students took advantage of the unique opportunity to get to know one another on a personal level outside the daily classrooms and mid-night pubs. At the same time, relationships were extending even beyond the Wharton student body, as students, faculty, and local volunteers shuttled across the playground shoveling heavy loads of mulch, or worked hand-in-hand with the Wissahickon children in preparation of a beautiful ceramic mosaic plate for the park gate. "Honestly speaking, there was little that we knew about Wharton until today," says Joe Garcia, the father of two daughters at Wissahickon. "But this really changes our image." Kristi Littell, Co-CEO of the Wissahickon Charter School reemphasized this point at the closing ceremony noting, "The most valuable part of the experience was that we were forming true friendships."
The playground now stands at the corner of Wissahickon Ave. and Roberts Ave. as a lasting symbol of Wharton's new step forward toward active citizenship in the Philadelphia community. "We were not doing something for them," announced Vice Dean Anjani Jain who had earlier struggled to tighten the stiff bolts on the giant spiral slide. "Rather, they have given an opportunity for us, to contribute to society."
The long summer day served as a great entrance for teamwork and bonding as a class, but even more, embedded in many of us a heightened sense of social involvement, which we hope to carry on through our lives. (The day of construction was recorded by Brian Biggs, a Wissahickon parent, and is shown on video at: www.flickr.com/groups/wcs_ playground/ )"
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