After awarding grants for 24 inventive locales last year, KaBOOM! and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation have launched its second Play Everywhere Challenge, awarding organizations a total of $1 million to create lasting, scalable design installations that provide more play opportunities for the kids who need them most. Applications opened on January 14 and will be accepted through March 22.

KaBOOM! Director of Programs and Operations Jen DeMelo has been with Play Everywhere since its beginning. Throughout the Q&A below, she provides details about the mission and impact of the Challenge, and what this year’s applicants need to know before applying.

Question: Why are designated play spaces so essential to a community?

Jen DeMelo: Kids need play to grow and thrive, and unfortunately, this play can be a matter of equity. It’s unfortunate that all kids don’t have this opportunity. It’s how they learn to problem solve, form relationships, and learn skills they’ll eventually use through their adulthood. But while these are essential factors in development, far too many kids are missing out on these opportunities. Many families struggle to incorporate daily play into their routine; and adequate and convenient play spaces can be hard to come by in many communities.

That’s why the projects implemented through our Play Everywhere Challenge help make play the easy choice for families, and really support getting kids involved in physical activities.

Q: What was the initial motivation behind the Play Everywhere Challenge?

JD: We know that too many families are without a designated place to play. Families face roadblocks that limit their children’s ability to engage in play opportunities, whether it’s due to limited time or access to places nearby. We had to find an alternate solution.

So, through our already established infrastructure and successful collaborations with cities and partners, we explored this concept and developed a number of successful approaches to creating kid-friendly cities that promote equitable access to safe, quality play experiences.

Our Play Everywhere approach helps to achieve just that, by introducing unique spaces in everyday places that we invite kids and families to come together and engage in shared activities.

We’re really excited to see the many transformational ideas due to come forth this year through this Built to Play initiative. The impact will definitely be vast throughout these communities, breathing new life into everyday physical spaces and daily routines by reclaiming forgotten, blighted or voided spaces.

Q: How has the partnership with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation enhanced the overall mission of KaBOOM! and its Play Everywhere capabilities?

JD: They’ve supported our ability to find more play opportunities for the most kids possible. And since we both know that play is an essential part of childhood—and that all kids should have the opportunity for play regardless of where they live or their family’s income—they’ve been helping us to achieve our overall mission much faster.

The more kids play, the better chance they have to grow up and be healthy. We’re so grateful to the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for opening those doors for us and all kids across Southeast Michigan and Western New York, who now have better play opportunities.

Q: If you could offer three tips to those planning to submit applications for this latest Play Everywhere Challenge, what would they be?

JD: Sure thing.

  1. If you’re questioning whether or not you should apply, please contact us (here), and share your idea with us. We’re happy to connect you with the appropriate people who can help you craft your idea. Contact us early [in the process] so we can help as soon as possible.
  2. Make sure you engage your community as soon as possible. One of the key things we’re focused on is making sure that community engagement and leadership is a priority throughout the process. The earlier you can engage with your community and get them involved in the creation of your concept and other steps along the way, the better.
  3. Use our website for tools that are available to all applicants. Our playbook (here) is a tool that several people have used, and it’s been very helpful for applicants to use while working through their ideas and figuring out if [the Play Everywhere Challenge] is right for them.