When it was time to design a new playground for Foss Park above Lake Michigan in North Chicago, the adults responsible for financing and building it left the design to the city’s youths.
Building the new playground is part of a $4 million, multiyear effort by the Foss Park District to restore the park, reopen the beach below and make other improvements. Additional help was necessary to rebuild the playground.
Kari Cowart, the Park District’s executive director, said the money and labor for the playground was a partnership between Riverwoods-based Discover Financial Services and KABOOM!, a not for profit organization which builds playgrounds nationwide in low-income areas.Volunteers from Discover install posts at Foss Park in North Chicago.
Cowart said when it was time to get ideas for the new playground, a focus group was formed with children from the community. They got the opportunity to let officials know what was important to them.
“Their input was important,” Cowart said. “We tried to incorporate their ideas as much as possible.”
Approximately 200 volunteers from Discover and YouthBuild Lake County completed a three-day project Thursday, building the new Foss Park playground with swings, slides, a zip line specifically requested by the children and more.
Alyse Perkowitz, a senior manager for community affairs at Discover who co-chairs the volunteer committee for the finance department, was involved in the project from the start. She said listening to the youngsters provided a lot of good ideas.
“The kids designed what we are building today,” Perkowitz said. “They suggested a zip line and we’re building one. They were a driving force of what you see.”
A large group of volunteers built the elements and dug mulch from a large hill to help keep the new playground safe. Cowart said there were approximately 150 volunteers from Discover and 50 more from YouthBuild.
For Oscar Gonzalez, an accounts payable analyst for Discover and one of the volunteers, working on the project was a homecoming. He said he lives five minutes from the park in North Chicago.A group of volunteers from Discover build a picnic table at Foss Park in North Chicago.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve come full circle. I came here to play soccer with my siblings. Now I’m able to give back. I may not be able to contribute financially, but I can volunteer my time.”
Moving mulch in a wheelbarrow from the pile to the completed areas of the playground was Foss Park District Board of Commissioners President and the North Chicago City Treasurer Vance Wyatt. It was a homecoming for him too.
“I grew up in this park,” Wyatt said. “I helped my father close it every Friday and Saturday. He was a maintenance worker here. Being here is a remembrance of my father. It reminds me of when I was a child.”Foss Park District Board of Commissioners President and North Chicago City Treasurer Vance Wyatt, far right, works with volunteers from Discover and YouthBuild Lake County moving mulch to a new playground.
Cowart calls the park a jewel for the district in the process of a needed renovation. Located between Naval Station Great Lakes and AbbVie, Wyatt said it was given to the city close to a century ago by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“It was part of (Naval Station) Great Lakes,” Wyatt said. “The FBI had a shooting range here. The deed was signed by (former President) Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
Carlos Argueta, YouthBuild’s senior director of programming, was overseeing participants in his organization’s program as they worked alongside the Discover volunteers.
Argueta said the organization works with people between 16 and 24 helping them complete their education and developing skills in the construction trades. They were fulfilling their required service hours.Volunteers from Discover and YoutBuild Lake County help erect a playground at Foss Park in North Chicago.
Discover’s partnership building playgrounds with KABOOM! is in its 27th year. Perkowitz said this is the 46th project the company and organization is doing. It is part of the company’s volunteer culture.
With an effort to help children’s education as well as their recreation, Perkowitz said the partnership with KABOOM! lends itself to both success in school as well as providing recreation to the community.
“The playground helps with social emotional learning, and helps them think while they are playing,” Perkowitz said. “This is directly related to success in school.”