Around the world in one summer

Thornton’s portable playground program offers fun and culture

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 7/31/18

A Thornton program aims to bring the thrill of throwing a boomerang, playing a Chinese drum or puzzling out the mystery of a rain stick to hundreds of kids that may not get that opportunity. Hundreds …

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Around the world in one summer

Thornton’s portable playground program offers fun and culture

Posted

A Thornton program aims to bring the thrill of throwing a boomerang, playing a Chinese drum or puzzling out the mystery of a rain stick to hundreds of kids that may not get that opportunity.

Hundreds of Thornton children had the opportunity to explore all of these things, thanks to the Portable Playground program through the city’s recreation department.

Two teams of recreation staff and volunteers brought the experiences to children in their own backyards, during the summer program’s Around the World themed play.

“We visit high-density housing communities, mobile home communities and section 8 apartment complexes,” said Jenni Dowdell, recreation coordinator for the city of Thornton. “We give Mom, Auntie or grandma a break while the kids come out and play with us for a couple of hours.”

Teams visit 20 sites each week and bring with them a shade shelter, crafts and games for kids, sports equipment, toys and either a breakfast or a lunch for each child who attends.

According to Dowdell, who has been with the program since it’s inception, portable playgrounds have been in place for more than 20 years, and was created to provide a safe, fun environment for children who live in lower-income communities, whose families may not have the resources to pay for summer camps or recreation programs.

“I think we make a huge impact on those children,” said Dowdell. “This gives them something to look forward to for a couple of hours once a week during the summer. It gives them a sense of sportsmanship, trust in other adults, and a sense of community when they are playing with other children. And the addition of a meal is important, we know they are getting at least one good meal a day.”

Sam Crandall, 19, has worked with the program each summer for five years and recently spent the morning at a Section 8 apartment complex, where officers were responding to a domestic dispute and homeless people pushed their carts through the complex.

“I love seeing the kids each week,” said Crandall. “This gives them a chance to get out of the house and do some fun activities. It’s cool when they start to trust you, and even better when we show up and they’re waiting for us. It makes your heart happy.”

Nicolas Zamora, 11, joined Crandall and her team for a day of volunteering, which he said was inspired by his mother Rebecca. She has encouraged volunteer work for both her sons Nicolas and Diego and told Nicolas about the portable playground program.

“My mom said, `do you want to play with children?’ And I said Yes! I love to play,’” said Nicolas, who practiced folding boomerangs so he could show other children how to do it correctly.

Crandall said it takes a little while for families to warm up to them and approach the activities, but once they are aware of the program they usually bring more friends with them the next week.

“We include everyone who wants to join us,” said Crandall. “We let them explore all the games and toys we have, and eventually they become comfortable and trust us. It’s really awesome to see kids who sometimes don’t even speak the same language figure out how to play and have fun together.”

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