COPH team builds playground for local neighborhood

While most of us were spending our past weekend with family, doing projects around the house, and maybe watching the USF Bulls play football, students and faculty from the College of Public Health spent the better part of their Saturday building a playground.

With the help of KaBOOM – a not-for-profit organization that funds playground equipment in places where the resources are most needed but ill afforded – the COPH team and other members of the Tampa community turned an empty lot on the corner of 15th Street and 19th Avenue in Tampa into a beautiful children’s park in just seven hours.

In the early morning, the site was an empty lot.

Seven hours later, a playground is ready for play.

“This project put into practice what we talk about in class,” said Carla VandeWeerd, PhD, assistant professor in the COPH’s Department of Community and Family Health and associate director of the James and Jennifer Harrell Center for the Study of Domestic Violence.

“Health is very much a socially determined phenomena and factors, including access to parks and green spaces, can dramatically affect health outcomes like obesity and stress. The project was also a great example of how a group of mobilized, dedicated individuals can make change and affect these outcomes.”

“Building the children’s park was a very low budget enterprise done with man power but without power tools,” she said, “and I am so proud of all the hard work the students put in.”

The volunteers mixed cement by hand, hoe and wheel barrel, and carried and laid  more than 500 cubic feet of  of mulch by tarp. They erected sections of playground equipment and benches via ratchet or hammer, and they painted fence posts and permanent chess boards to ensure kids would have access to a beautiful space for long-term game playing.

Mathieu Poirier cuts holes where the posts will go through the tarp.

Jessica Smith and Mathieu Poirier use a tarp to haul mulch.

Corailia Vazquez-Otero, Katherine Price, Monica Rousseau paint chess boards.

The work brought out local neighborhood kids who were eager to give the new playground a try.

“The kids were so excited that their street was going to have a slide and swings that they could hardly understand why they had to wait to play until the cement dried,” she said. “They too were clearly proud of the new park in their neighborhood; and for the students, it was a real lesson in the ways environment can really foster social capitol and a sense of social cohesion.”

In addition to Dr. VandeWeerd, the COPH team included Saboria Thomas, Coralia Vasquez Otero, Katie Lasch, Tiffany DeFiore, Jessica Smith, Monica Rousseau, Mathieu Poirier and Katherine Price.

The team: Coralia Vazquez-Otero, Mathieu Poirier, Katie Lasch, Jessica Smith, Dr. Carla VandeWeerd, Monica Rousseau, Katherine Price, Saboria Thomas, and Tiffancy DeFiore

“Students in my class draw on experiences from all of their courses as they begin to really understand and tie the multifaceted impacts of socially determined health together, evaluate current programs, and identify additional ways we can make a difference through Public Health,” Dr. VandeWeerd said.

“As a teacher, it was fantastic to see it happen in real time.”