Denuski leads the way for children’s play in Kenmore
By LAURIE SPERRY
Bothell Reporter Contributor
August 20, 2012 · Updated 6:16 PM
Kenmore will hold its annual Day of Play on Aug. 25 at Rhododendron Park
On sunny evenings and summer days, a steady stream of families and children of all ages walk to and from the playground at Kenmore Elementary School.
Four years ago, Kenmore Elementary almost became a space without a place to play. It began when vandals damaged the main play structure at the school in 2008.
When Northshore School District employees came out to investigate, they discovered the aging playground equipment didn’t meet current building codes. The district wanted to remove the old equipment, but lacked the funds to replace it with new equipment.
Unless the PTA could fund and build new play equipment, Kenmore Elementary would become a school without a playground.
PTA member Stacey Denuski signed up to lead the Kenmore Elementary Playground Renovation Committee in 2009.
“Before starting, I didn't know about playground safety codes, regulations (and) the interaction necessary between school districts and the city. And I surely didn't envision that installing a new playground would require $100,000," she said.
Denuski soon realized she was in over her head. She began doing research to learn how to build playgrounds. As Denuski puts it, she “stumbled across the KaBOOM! Web site.” KaBOOM! is a nonprofit dedicated to saving play for America’s children by creating great places to play within walking distance of every child’s home.
“I don't know what I would have done without them,” Denuski recalls. “Every step of their community-build model is on the Web site for anyone to use.” The information on the KaBOOM! Web site also helped Denuski’s PTA committee pursue a joint-use agreement with the city and the school district.
Denuski’s PTA group won the support of the district and the city. And within one year, their committee raised $80,000, including a contribution from the city, to build a new playground at Kenmore Elementary.
KaBOOM! doesn’t build playgrounds for communities, it shows communities how to build their own playgrounds. On build day, a crowd of volunteers gather and put together the new play equipment, much like an old-fashioned barn raising. Even Kenmore Mayor David Baker and his wife, Sheri, participated in the community-build day at Kenmore Elementary.
Denuski is a big fan of the community-build model.
“It changes everything,” she says. “I still hear kids on the playground commenting that pieces of equipment that they wanted the most were included.” And kids still point to the part they helped with and say, “I built that.”
Denuski finds that the community-build model encourages a sense of ownership. People are more willing to take care of the new playground equipment when they were the ones who helped put it together.
Inspired by the idea of promoting play in the city, Denuski began working with Mayor Baker on an even bigger goal: becoming a KaBOOM! Playful City. The KaBOOM! Web site explains the Playful City USA program as "an application-based national recognition program honoring cities and towns that make play a priority and use innovative programs to get children active, playing, and healthy.” Cities and towns create action plans to promote physical activity and play in their city.
Denuski took the lead. She formed a play committee, organized a citywide Day of Play event and completed all the paperwork needed to show the city’s commitment to play.
“Stacey is amazing”, said Baker. Denuski did all work for Kenmore’s Playful City application. City staff were not involved in process, so there was no additional cost to the city of Kenmore in applying to become a Playful City, Baker explains.
All of Denuski’s hard work paid off, and in 2010, Kenmore won designation as a Playful City USA.
Denuski continues to work with KaBOOM! and applies each year for Kenmore to maintain its designation as a Playful City. Playful City recognition is not automatic. Last year, more than 200 cities who applied for the designation were turned down, according to Baker. Kenmore has won Playful City recognition three years in a row. In 2012, there were 213 Playful Cities in the U.S. Kenmore is one of only five Playful Cities in Washington state.
One of the benefits of becoming a Playful City is access to more than 2 million in grants for playgrounds and play equipment.
Another part of being a Playful City is promoting healthy play through events. Kenmore’s Annual Day of Play will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 25 at Rhododendron Park, 6910 N.E. 170th St.
“It’s really just a day to get out and play,” says Denuski. Children of all ages will have the opportunity to use their imaginations and big boxes to build their own playground. Other activities include: bubbles, face painting and temporary tattoos from KaBOOM! Lunch will be provided by the city of Kenmore.
In April, the Denuski family participated in an unusual play event. Denuski won a contest through Let's Move to go to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. KaBOOM! is one of the partners in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for healthier kids.
For more information, visit www.playfulcityusa.org.