200 Volunteers Erect New Kid-Designed Bed-Stuy Playground in Hours

By Paul DeBenedetto on June 21, 2013 9:54am 

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 More than 200 people helped erect a new playground at Willoughby Court.
New Bed-Stuy Park Erected in Hours
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — When the children of Willoughby Court, a low-income housing development in Bed-Stuy, left for school on Thursday morning, they walked through an empty courtyard.

When they got home, they saw a playground.

More than 200 volunteers joined residents of Willoughby Court, at 721 Willoughby Ave., to create a brand new playground— in just five hours.

Designed by children at Willoughby Court, the playground is the result of a partnership between Forest City Ratner and KaBOOM!, a nonprofit group that helps communities in "play deserts" — areas with little or no access to play space — build new areas for kids to play.

"You're not going to find this playground anywhere else," said Jen Leshnower, a project manager at KaBOOM!. "This is a unique design for this space."

Volunteers hand mixed 16,000 pounds of concrete, laid down 16 tons of rubber safety surfacing and erect about 5,000 pounds of playground equipment for the 267 low-income families who live in the development.

Tools and materials were donated or otherwise paid for by KaBOOM! and Forest City, while residents raised more than $10,000 of their own through six weeks of neighborhood cake sales and fish bakes, which amounted to about 10 percent of the playground's cost, according to the development's management. Representatives from KaBOOM! and Forest City Ratner would not confirm the project's final cost.

As workers erected swings and slides, Willoughby Court residents looked on.

"This is so cool," said Yvette Huins, 54. "The community coming together and doing this is awesome."

"This is a beautiful thing," added Derrick Mann, 45. "It's for the kids. If you don't love the kids, something's wrong."

While some of the volunteers were from the development and local community groups, the bulk of the volunteers came from Forest City Ratner, Chairman Bruce Ratner said.

"We have 120 people who signed up today," Ratner said. "We have only 135 people in our company, and it's completely volunteer."

Ratner also praised Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which built the development in the 1970s, as "one of the great organizations in the United States."

Colvin Grannum, president of BSRC, said he was just glad to see Willoughby Court get a much-needed upgrade.

"I just think it's a real great partnership between the non-profit sector and a private corporation," Grannum said. "We're happy that this facility we built more than 30 years ago is getting a facelift, and continues to be affordable to low-income Brooklynites."

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