Holy Loch Neuse Dragon, Kinston Gets a New Playground!


In June 2017, nearly 100 volunteers descended on Kinston to build a playground in about six hours. As daunting as the task sounds, Wash., D.C.-based non-profit KaBOOM! has built 3,000 playgrounds around the country in a day’s time by gathering hundreds of volunteers to assemble slides, swings, and ultimately, make thousands of kids super happy. In partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC, a proud sponsor of A CHEF’S LIFE), KaBOOM! bussed volunteers from as far away as Raleigh, NC to help build a unique playground in Kinston complete with a “Loch Neuse Dragon.” Bill Ellis who recently retired from his post as director of Kinston-Lenoir County Parks and Recreation was the most spirited member of the project’s organizing team, which consisted of a dozen community members. The addition of the Loch Neuse Dragon was Ellis’ idea. He says of the new playground, “It’s a great project when you can bring that many people together and we are so grateful for the money being donated by BCBSNC and Vivian's role in the project. It was just the right thing to do.” Ultimately, interactive ‘dragon eggs and baby dragons’ will line Kinston’s Riverwalk (a 2.4 mile pedestrian and bicycle path) in an effort to encourage kids and adults alike to get out and get active. If you are visiting Kinston and encounter strange sounds after dark on a late night walk, don’t worry. It’s just your friendly, neighborhood dragon!

Vivian and her team provided a delicious lunch of samosa pockets filled with lamb and savory spices for the hungry helpers. 
Building continued through the summer and Vivian's twins, Theo and Flo, have been eagerly anticipating the playground's completion. "It's been worrying the children to death that they cannot get out there," Vivian said. Luckily, Ellis said, the wait for the twins and the rest of the children in Kinston will soon be over; the playground is set to open Nov. 14 and a grand opening is set for December. 

We talked to Imani Jackson, the KaBOOM! manager for the Kinston playground build, about KaBOOM!’s mission to bring balanced and active play to all children and what made the Kinston project so special.

How did KaBOOM!'s partnership with BCBSNC begin?
Kinston was our tenth build together in nine years. Since 2009, BCBSNC has brought play to kids across the state, from Asheville to Wilmington, serving more than 10,000 kids. BCBSNC is committed to improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians. KaBOOM! playground projects create safe spaces for kids to be active in their own communities.

How was Kinston chosen as a KaBOOM! build site?
KaBOOM! is constantly seeking communities and organizations that serve populations who are in need of new play equipment. While a lot of attention is paid to urban markets, we prioritize working with rural communities whenever we have the opportunity. When we heard that the City of Kinston was re-designing their Riverwalk to revitalize the downtown area following flooding from Hurricane Matthew, we thought they would be a great fit for a KaBOOM! project. We worked with Bill Ellis, the Kinston Parks & Recreation director, along with other leaders in the community to apply for their project, which included rallying support and commitment from folks across Kinston to support everything that goes into the project. We were thrilled when BCBSNC selected them as a partner!

How many playgrounds has KaBOOM! built altogether?
We celebrated our 3,000th build on Oct. 18! It’s a very exciting time for our organization.

What happens between choosing the site and the day of the actual build?
Once a site has been confirmed the project manager works with the community and the funder for two months planning everything from donations to feed volunteers to the tools needed to complete the project. We stay organized by having a weekly planning call. The special part about this process is that members of the community make the asks to ensure each project requirement is met which helps to ensure the build is a success and honors the community model KaBOOM! was founded on.
How many KaBOOM! playground builds have you personally participated in?
At the end of this year, I will have managed 24 playground builds.

What are some of the quirkiest items you've installed at KaBOOM! build sites?
I think Bill Ellis has won the quirkiest item ever to be installed on a KaBOOM! playground with the large dragon sculpture we installed in Kinston.

What was it like working with the team in Kinston?
The team was so wonderful. I went back to D.C. campaigning for a Kinston, NC KaBOOM! office! In all seriousness KaBOOM! has a great partner in Kinston Parks and Recreation and BCBSNC.