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AAOS, KaBOOM! Team up to Build Playground on Chicago's South Side




The day dawned bright but cold as the crowd slowly gathered in a small empty lot earlier this week on Chicago’s South Side. Temperatures were well below average for a morning so late in the season, though few seemed bothered by the bone-chilling conditions as they picked up hammers, saws, drills and paintbrushes and began building a playground for the children of St. Sabina parish on West 78th Place.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) sponsored the volunteer construction project on March 19 to kick off its 80th annual meeting in the Windy City. The 36,000-member group has worked with KaBOOM!— a non-profit organization devoted to increasing playtime among America’s youngsters—for the last 13 years to build kid-inspired playgrounds throughout the country. The volunteer construction project at St. Sabina (which included a cameo appearance by Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull) was the academy’s second such build in the Chicago area.

“Physical activity and safety are two fundamental principles endorsed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,” said Leon S. Benson, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon/hand specialist at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute and a professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “This playground build at St. Sabina will give neighborhood children and families an opportunity to participate in safe and healthy recreational activities, and orthopedic surgeons couldn’t be happier to make this possible.”

The new 2,764-square-foot playground at St. Sabina features a safety sign in Braille, recreational equipment for children of varying abilities between the ages of 5 and 12, a slide, a bell, drum panels, two climbers and a horn. The site also has wheelchair ramps, a “cozy cocoon” designed for kids with autism spectrum disorders, and interactive panels with letters and numbers. More than 60 parish children and parents designed the playground last fall.

In addition to the playground, volunteers constructed a memorial dedicated to youths killed by gun violence in the area. The Auburn-Gresham neighborhood led the city in homicides last year (43 as of Dec. 21, 2012); just two days after the playground build, seven people were shot and injured during a rap video release party outside an area nightclub.

“This playground will give the children in the Auburn-Gresham community a safe haven to run and play without fear of being gun-ned down,” said Father Michael L. Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina.