HAP­PI­NESS ON A TRUCK

MOBILE PLAY­GROUNDS BRING JOY TO HUN­DREDS OF AMER­I­CAN CHIL­DREN FROM LOW IN­COME FAM­I­LIES

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - SPECIAL REPORT - By Chris­tine Vestal

In a state with the fourth-high­est rate of youth obe­sity in the na­tion, the Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, parks and re­cre­ation agency wanted to lure kids away from their screens and into the parks to get mov­ing.

But the low-in­come youths who needed ex­er­cise the most weren’t show­ing up at the parks, be­cause, of­fi­cials learned, they didn’t have trans­porta­tion, and their par­ents were too busy work­ing to take them. So they de­cided to take the parks to the kids.

With money donated in 2012 by cor­po­rate spon­sors and a por­tion of their parish bud­get, the lo­cal parks and re­cre­ation agency, known as the Ba­ton Rouge East Com­mis­sion, or BREC, bought a box de­liv­ery truck, painted it with bright colours and filled it with scoot­ers, hula hoops, balls, slack lines, tram­po­lines, side­walk chalk and jump ropes.

“The idea came to us one day while we were watch­ing a bunch of kids turn flips on an old mat­tress some­one had dis­carded near the of­fice,” said Diane Drake, who di­rects BREC’S play­ground on wheels. “We re­alised it wouldn’t take much to get kids mov­ing if we put it right in front of them.”

Nam­ing the mobile play­ground BREC on the Geaux, the parks and re­cre­ation agency in 2013 started what would be­come a daily pro­gramme by hold­ing com­mu­nity events at hous­ing com­plexes, churches, parks and schools in low-in­come neigh­bour­hoods.

If peals of laugh­ter and swarms of ac­tiv­ity are any in­di­ca­tor, BREC on the Geaux was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, Drake said. “Once word spread, chil­dren would come run­ning out of their apart­ments as soon as we pulled into the park­ing lot. It was all we could do to un­load the equip­ment before they grabbed it and ran off.”

A year after it be­gan, BREC of­fi­cials drove the mobile play­ground to Char­lotte, North Carolina, to share their story with oth­ers at a 2014

Chil­dren at the Dufrocq School in Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, com­pete in a sack race us­ing equip­ment pro­vided by the lo­cal parks and re­cre­ation com­mis­sion.

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