Only one in four kids in the United States gets the recommended daily amount of physical activity, according to KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that partners in under-resourced communities to build safe, activity-filled playgrounds in just one day. Its mission statement explains that KaBOOM! is “dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play they need to thrive.” Blue Shield has partnered with KaBOOM! since 2015. This year, as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to its new corporate home, Blue Shield volunteers constructed a playground for Yu Ming Public Charter School in Oakland..
“Yu Ming is less than five miles from Blue Shield’s new Oakland headquarters,” said Michael Mathias, Blue Shield’s executive vice president of customer experience and chief information officer, who leads the project’s teams. “[As part of our ongoing #80forOakland program,] we are continuing to become part of the community. We wanted to choose a nearby school that would benefit the most.”
Yu Ming Head of School Sue Park noted, “Our lower elementary campus has a play structure that is more than a decade old. Two years ago, we were required to close access to a major section of the playground. The overall structure is also progressively deteriorating. Timely support from Blue Shield of California through KaBOOM! has provided the perfect opportunity to bring our community together to rebuild our play area and bring a new play structure to our lower elementary students.”
After a May “design day,” approximately 125 Blue Shield employees volunteered on July 18, “doing everything from mixing and pouring concrete, assembling playground equipment, painting signs, and building benches,” said Mathias.
“We believe that play is a critical part of childhood and key to a child’s ability to succeed —physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and creatively,” said Sarah Branoff, project manager for KaBOOM! “KaBOOM! believes communities can address many urgent problems, especially those plaguing low-income neighborhoods, by bringing people together to ensure that all kids have great, safe places to play.”
The feedback from teachers and students at two previous Blue Shield/KaBOOM! installations has been “extraordinary,” said Mathias. “The teachers and administrators have been very appreciative of the time and hard work our employees put into building the playgrounds.”
Park completely agrees, describing Blue Shield as “a wonderful partner” through the months-long planning, design, and building process. She noted that since Yu Ming is a Mandarin immersion school, the new playground will be especially important, because recent research has shown that “physical activity amplifies people’s ability to learn a new language. To fully engage students’ minds, we must move their bodies,” she said. Faraz Sabet, program manager, strategy, planning, and operational effectiveness at Blue Shield, is also a team leader in the KaBOOM! partnership.
“Supporting children’s healthy development is close to my heart and has been the epicenter of my career,” he said. Yet, he pointed out, the success of a project like this doesn’t come easily. “It requires sincere enthusiasm, commitment, and support, all of which I have found to be abundant here at Blue Shield.” Like others interviewed, Sabet was enthusiastic about the working partnership created between Blue Shield, KaBOOM! and Yu Ming.
According to Mathias and Branoff, Blue Shield fully expects other Oakland sites to be selected for KaBOOM! builds. “KaBOOM! looks forward to doing more work with kids, families and community organizations in Oakland to bring amazing places to play to Oakland neighborhoods in the future,” said Branoff.
The KaBOOM! build at Yu Ming is an ideal part of the ongoing #80forOakland campaign, Blue Shield sources said, because the entire campaign was created to introduce the company, and its commitment to community engagement, to Oakland prior to Blue Shield’s move into its new corporate headquarters. As part of its 80th anniversary celebration, the company is encouraging its employees to participate in 80 community service or exploratory activities in the city before the move is completed. Projected for late 2019, the 601 City Center headquarters will house 1,200 Blue Shield employees.
“Providing a safe place for children to play supports Blue Shield’s mission,” said Mathias. True to this mission, his Customer Experience and Information Technology teams at Blue Shield “aspire to give back to the communities we serve by building healthy communities, promoting play and healthy exercise, and helping to reduce childhood obesity and type 1 diabetes.”