On Lamar Avenue in Tampa Heights, a vacant lot behind an abandoned building that was once a church will soon have a purpose.
Members of the community are partnering with KaBOOM! and PNC Bank to build a playground for the neighborhood's kids in an area of town where some parks lack playground equipment, and to help combat childhood obesity. A volunteer day will be held on Saturday, March 2 for anyone interested in pitching in to help build the playground.
"We are always looking for opportunities for our youth," said Lena Young Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, "and our neighborhood."
The playground idea came about last year, when officials at KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate the creation of playgrounds across the country, heard officials at PNC Bank were interested in building a playground in the Tampa Bay area, said KaBOOM! Communications Manager Mike Vietti.
"KaBOOM! scoured the area looking for places for a playground," Vietti said. "We looked for areas without safe places to play, or existing playgrounds that needed to be fixed."
The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association found the Lamar Avenue playground site near busy Nebraska Avenue and behind the church, which is being renovated for a community center.
An application process followed, and entailed things like soil testing, liability insurance, a signed petition, photos of the site and about 150 volunteers who would be available to build the playground, said Green.
The next step was figuring out what type of equipment should be included.
That's where the neighborhood kids came in.
During a design day for the project in December, local children were invited to draw their dream playground.
"We looked for common themes and colors," Vietti said. "Did a lot of children draw swings? Did they draw slides? What kind of slides?"
Zoraya Suarez, vice president and senior manager of media relations for PNC Bank, said her organization is helping sponsor the playground because of its ability to help kids learn starting at a young age.
"They (playgrounds) provide opportunities for young children to play and learn important social and emotional skills, such as waiting, negotiating, taking turns, cooperation, compromise, sharing and expressing emotions," she said. "In addition, through the activity of play, many children enhance their cognitive and language skills and develop motor skills – all important strengths to prepare them for school."
To complete the project, $8,500 must be raised for KaBOOM!, who provide the playground materials. So far, Green said, $4,500 has been raised.
Jill Sedita, who serves on the public relations committee for the playground project, said the addition of a playground will help improve the image of Tampa Heights.
"It’s a great opportunity for this particular community," she said. "Not only will it serve the children, but homeowners in the area. It will add an attraction to the neighborhood."
For more information, or to participate in the March 2 build day, send an email to Frankel_heather@hotmail.com. Contact the Tampa Heights Civic Association here.