Let’s Play in Camden: Making dreams come true.

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This post is brought to you by Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

“The parks and playgrounds you go to in your dreams.”

Dream Playground | Dr Pepper Snapple Group Let's Play Initiative

For a handful of Camden children, that served as inspiration for their ideal playground. When they gathered at Camden Children’s Garden for a playground “Design Day,” they were tasked with drawing their dream playground. For the kids of Camden, however, their dreams might be the only place where they get to see a playground.

There are no playgrounds in the city of Camden.

It’s a fact that’s difficult to imagine. As is the thought of having nowhere to play.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group | Camden Children's Garden

Kids want to play. They always want to play. There should be no barriers to active play in a child’s life but, in Camden, there are.

That’s why Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! are on the ground in Camden, organizing volunteers to build a playground for the simplest of purposes — so kids can play. Just play.

The Dr Pepper Snapple Group Let’s Play initiative helps give kids and their families the tools, places, and inspiration to make active play a daily priority.

Camden, New Jersey sits opposite Philadelphia on the other side of the Delaware River. It’s a city with challenges. With the highest crime rate in the country, it was recently dubbed the Most Dangerous City in America (Camden’s violent crime rate of 2,566 violent crimes per 100,000 people is 6.6 times the national average of 387 per 100,000 people). A full 40 percent of Camden’s residents live below the poverty line.

Children comprise one-third of Camden’s population of 77,000 people. And none of them have a place to play.

dps camden childrens garden design day 1

Last week, a group of concerned, motivated adults met with a KaBOOM! representative for “Design Day” to get the ball rolling on their soon-to-be playground. Children also played a role in Design Day, by drawing their dream playground. It took some encouraging, and some guidance.

The children were given cues, by way of pictures of typical playground equipment, such as slides and monkey bars. They had plenty of ideas, ideas for their dream playground.

dps camden childrens garden design day 3

These adults — and a few hundred more — are going all in to make sure the kids of Camden get the playground of their dreams. While many volunteers will be building the playground, others are giving their time and talents to get donations of tools, supplies, and food for the June 25 “Build Day” at Camden Children’s Garden, which I can’t wait to experience. Then it’s time to play. Just play.

Active play is important in the life of a child; it helps a child grow physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. It also is a factor in the development of gross motor skills, control, coordination, and strength.

Physical play does something else — it helps children think creatively, as well as forge strong connections with each other. That comes from learning to share, negotiating, and resolving conflicts.

playground monkey bars 1

But activity plays another role in children’s lives — it helps keep kids (and their families) healthy, which lowers the risk of obesity which, in turn, lowers the risk of obesity-associated health issues. In communities with no park or playground, the rate of childhood obesity increases 29 percent. Children who do have a park or playground within a half mile are almost five times as likely to be at a healthy weight than their counterparts.

The Dr Pepper Snapple Group Let’s Play program provides underserved communities with safe, accessible playgrounds and sports equipment. That makes active play possible for more children, thus helping eliminate the “play deficit.”

playground swings

The play deficit is what results from a lack of physical activity. Only about half of American students are enrolled in a physical education class. And by high school? Only one-third of students take a daily gym class.

Once kids get home, the play deficit continues. Less than 40 percent of kids aged 9 to 13 participate in organized physical activity during non-school hours. As we all know, kids are choosing media over play these days. Kids spend an average of seven hours each day on media, including TV, computers, phones, and other electronic devices. No wonder there’s a play deficit!

playground slide

Dr Pepper Snapple Group doesn’t do Let’s Play alone, however; two non-profit organizations have joined forces with them to make sure that communities are getting everything they need. KaBOOM! is behind the building and improvement of playgrounds, while Good Sports provides grants for sports equipment. This might be one of the most important partnerships in disadvantaged communities. For Camden residents, it will be.

This playground will be built in June by 200-250 volunteers — employees from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the Canada Dry bottling company, and Shop-Rite, members of the Philadelphia Eagles, and community members — on the grounds of Camden Children’s Garden.

Camden Children's Garden | Walt Whitman Statue

In the meantime, community members will be working to secure donations of tools and supplies as well as recruit volunteers to do the actual building of the playground. Their work is cut out for them, but they’ll get the job done. There’s too much at stake — and children they don’t want to disappoint — to not get the job done.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group has committed more than $28 million since its inception in 2011 — meaning millions of youth have benefited from Let’s Play in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. More than 2,000 playgrounds have either been built or improved through Let’s Play, with approximately 400 more to go.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group Let's Play in Philadelphia

This isn’t the first time Dr Pepper Snapple Group has been in this region. Through Let’s Play, playgrounds were recently built in the still-struggling Seaside Heights community as well as in West Philadelphia.

By 2017, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group Let’s Play initiative will provide approximately 10 million kids with more opportunities to play — through new or improved playgrounds and sports equipment. That means millions of kids will be able to live healthier lifestyles!

dps camden childrens garden

Camden Children’s Garden, the site where the playground will be built, is a four-acre community garden designed for children and their families as a special place to explore and discover the natural world.

dps camden childrens garden carousel

Each year, it serves approximately 40,000 children.

dps camden childrens garden dinosaurs

It is a natural place for a playground, as it all about creative and imaginative play.

Camden Children’s Garden will be prepared for the volunteers who will show up on June 25 to build a playground. And then the children of Camden will see dreams become a reality.

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