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Volunteers Race To Please

Race-theme playground built for local children.

A partnership of volunteers building a racing-themed playground Thursday, May 4, dug, mixed and planted so quickly, they were able to reach the finish line ahead of schedule.

“They’re working so quickly,” said Caroline Counihan, spokesperson for The Home Depot. “They’ve just gone through it all so fast.”

The playground is one of 10 to be built this year under The Home Depot's Racing to Play program. The program is a partnership between The Home Depot, Joe Gibbs Racing, and KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization whose mission is to "create a great place to play within walking distance of every child in North America." The Home Depot has committed to contribute a total of $25 million to KaBOOM! for the larger program to build 1,000 playgrounds in 1,000 days. Counihan estimates to have about 1 million volunteer hours after the 1,000 days of building are over.

Under the Racing to Play program, 10 new playgrounds will be built in communities near NASCAR races this year. The communities are in close proximity to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races, so some NASCAR drivers have the opportunity to participate in the one-day building of each of the 10 playgrounds.

“It’s neat to give back to the community we’re racing in,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Gibbs, NASCAR truck series racer Aric Almirola and a team of volunteers from all three of the partnership organizations built a playground for the 54 children living in the Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia’s Stevenson Street Homes Complex, near the intersection of Waples Mill Road and Government Center Parkway. The 18-unit housing complex lacked a close playground for children, so its homeowner’s association applied to the Racing to Play program.

"We're out here continuing to support our homeowners," said Wendy Misuinas, faith relations coordinator at Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia. "It's important to me when I'm working to feel like I'm actually making a difference in the world."

VOLUNTEERS HAVE built three playgrounds this year for Racing to Play. Each playground is designed entirely by the children who will use it most.

"All of the playgrounds KaBOOM! builds are completely unique to the community and the children who play on it," said Counihan. "That's just so cool to me."

The children from the Stevenson community got together on March 9 for "design day." They drew plans for their playground, based on their favorite ideas and places to play. KaBOOM! provided crayons and markers so they could design their ideal playing space. The volunteers then took the designs and turned them into the blueprints for the project.

Meghan Fugate, KaBOOM! project manager, said the partnership has been fantastic so far, and has provided a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

"Our vision is to have playgrounds in walking distance from their homes," said Fugate. "It has been a true community effort."