By: Ashley Byars
As Senior Strategist at KABOOM!, Carrie Leovy brings over 22 years of experience to developing meaningful, sustainable corporate partnerships. For over 25 years, KABOOM! has been on a mission to unite with communities to build kid-designed playspaces that spark joy and foster a sense of belonging for youth who are often denied opportunities to thrive.
For Momentum chatted with Carrie to learn more about:
- Her introduction to KABOOM!
- The organization’s 25 in 5 Initiative to accelerate efforts to end playspace inequity
- The incredible partnership with Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation that’s helping bring KABOOM!’s vision to reality
Q: To begin, tell us a little about how you got your start in cause partnership work, what your role at KABOOM! entails and one amazing thing you love about your work.
A: In July 1995, two young kids, Iesha and Clendon Elmore, died when they got trapped in an abandoned car in their neighborhood in Southeast Washington DC. Neighbors and KABOOM! founder Darell Hammond understood their deaths as a consequence of a major societal failure. The kids’ Anacostia neighborhood, a community of color which had experienced decades of disinvestment, had no safe place for kids to play.
I met Darell soon after, as he began knocking on doors in the neighborhood, bringing kids and neighbors together to lead the all-volunteer development, grassroots planning and hands-on construction of a custom playground designed by neighborhood kids. More than 500 community and Home Depot volunteers worked together to build the playground in an inspiring, energetic “urban barn raising” event.
Something quite magical happens when people come together like this around their shared values of kid and community well-being. In Anacostia, this first KABOOM! project created a great playground, as well as a remarkably strong sense of belonging, trust and momentum for more good works among neighbors.
I got excited thinking about partnership design that could propel both this cause and the business and philanthropic priorities of Target, Discover, General Motors and other top corporate citizens—and I’ve been at it ever since.
Q: Tell us more about KABOOM!’s longstanding mission to end playspace inequity for good and why it’s important to increase access to playspaces.
A: Kids need active play. Play is how kids build muscles, expand their minds, make friends and strengthen bonds with their family. In primarily BIPOC neighborhoods across the United States that have experienced chronic disinvestment, however, kids too often miss out on these benefits of active play because they have no places to play—either at school or in their neighborhoods.
Over the last 26 years, KABOOM! has helped more than 17,000 communities engage more than 1.5 million volunteers in the construction of playgrounds, courts, adventure courses and creative urban placemaking that inspires kids’ active play.
Q: Has KABOOM! seen a change in corporate partner requirements around racial equity and DEI components over the last few years? If so, how?
A: We see both forward-thinking corporate citizens and foundation partners increasingly committing to address racial inequities and making big bets to solve serious social issues.
At KABOOM!, these partners help us lead the 25 in 5 Initiative, which is accelerating efforts to end playspace inequity in 25 priority places over the next five years. The CarMax Foundation, for example, has helped us complete playspace equity assessments with Baltimore City Public Schools and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks that have helped us identify the 90+ playground projects needed to give all Baltimore city kids access to great playgrounds over the next five years. Their contributions of $1 million+ and the talents of more than 1,000 associate volunteers have built the foundation for this work.
Q: Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation has been working with KABOOM! in Oakland. Tell us more about the outcomes of this innovative partnership and how Eat. Learn. Play. has helped advance engagement and awareness around your mission.
A: As part of their work to provide access to safe places for kids to play and be active, Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation is working with KABOOM!, Oakland Unified School District and a family of their brand partners to create playful schoolyards for kids across Oakland.
Stephen and Ayesha Curry are passionate advocates for kids’ right to play, helping spotlight the urgency of this cause through regional and national media and building a family of supporters including Workday, The CarMax Foundation, Ripple, Under Armour and others that have helped kick off a drumbeat of progress that started with the creation of a beautiful, playful schoolyard at Franklin Elementary School. This type of collaborative effort is important in Oakland, where neighborhoods of color have access to 69% less parkland than white neighborhoods, and lower-income neighborhoods have access to 78% less park space than neighborhoods with high income.
Q: From your perspective, what is the toughest challenge facing nonprofits today when activating a national cause campaign?
A: The pandemic has both highlighted the importance of outdoor places to play and exacerbated the mental health crisis facing youth today. So for a cause like KABOOM!, where Americans deeply understand both its dire urgency as well as the way we can unlock joy, health and success for kids, planning campaign activation tends to be relatively easy, honestly. The part that takes big brainpower is considering how philanthropic dollars can be leveraged for the greatest community outcomes.
In our case, learning from some of our most strategic partners like the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, we often encourage partners to:
- Join us in framing a big, bold vision (for example, all kids in Atlanta will have access to great playspace supported by significant, long-term commitments)
- Invite other funders to collaborate (for example, with matching funds that unlock public dollars and allow for shared limelight)
- Make sure investments in local projects are supported by national, equity-focused, community-driven expertise
- Be bold about funding what others won’t, as we all know strategy development, data tools, measurement and evaluation are non-negotiable parts of successful change work.
Q: Have you seen a change in employee engagement requests from corporate partners? How do you handle these types of requests?
A: As the pandemic eases, KABOOM! and our corporate partners have seen a surge of interest among employee teams in leading large-scale, hands-on, team volunteer service projects.
In part, this trend is driven by new hybrid work contexts which make employees crave opportunities to accomplish meaningful change together in person. Teams working alongside communities to hoist spiral slides, bolt rocky ridge climbers and construct an entire playground with us in a day are wrapping up Build Days cheering, tearful, purposeful, proud. The energy is unprecedented.
We also see employee teams gravitating toward opportunities that promote kids’ wellbeing, often motivated by first-hand insights into the ways that the intersection of public health, economic and racial equity crises have disrupted kids’ education, socialization, connectedness to community, sense of security and access to active play.
5 fun facts about Carrie
- Favorite app 1 Second Everyday
- Last book read An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong
- Hobby Visiting epic parks and playgrounds on every family trip
- Favorite place to unwind Lake Caspian in Greensboro, VT
- Top three favorite foods steak tacos, Greek salads, KaBerry KABOOM! Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
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