Almost two decades ago, we started KaBOOM! to make good on a simple aspiration: To ensure that every child lived within walking distance of a playground.
During the years since, we have engaged more than one million volunteers. All told, KaBOOM! volunteers have built more than 15,000 playgrounds that serve more than 6.6 million kids. Last year, alone, more than 36,000 KaBOOM! volunteers gave more than 218,000 hours of their time.
We're very proud of their work and its impact. We're proud of all the good we've accomplished so far.
But simply put, good is not good enough. Because if we really want to help build a world in which every child has a safe place and regular opportunity to play -- regardless of her address or income -- then we have to do more.
What does this mean for us? Well, as an organization dedicated to social change, we knew we had to recalibrate and redefine our mission. We always have been all about community and volunteer engagement. We still are. But, today, we're engaging people in the cause of play -- in promoting it, and protecting it.
We're marshaling our volunteers' enthusiasm -- harnessing their passion and sense of purpose -- to raise an army of advocates. We used to only ask volunteers to help us build playgrounds -- and we still do. But these days, we're asking them to help us build a movement, too.
Here's what we know: All of the science affirms that active play is essential to children's physical health, emotional well being, educational progress, and social development. Therefore, our job needs to be ensuring that all kids can realize these benefits -- through the promise of play -- through safe, regular opportunities to build muscles, expand minds, and forge friendships.
For instance, our America's Most Playful Family contest asks Americans to share photos and stories that showcase the unique and creative ways their families stay active -- and have fun doing it. This year, we're giving away more than 1,000 prizes, including a trip to Disney World.
Our Playful City USA initiative asks cities to volunteer and make play a priority, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel did in Chicago. During 2013, we celebrated 217 cities in 43 states -- including 37 first-time designees. We're excited to announce our 2014 honorees very soon.
Why is this work important? Because play matters.
Almost one-third of American kids are overweight or obese, kids as young as three are suffering from depression, and the U.S. spends nearly $300 billion dollars a year on the one in five kids who suffer from mental health disorders. Yet, more than 96 percent of pediatricians say that play helps kids to build social skills and confidence. And kids living within one kilometer of a park or playground are five times more likely to be of a healthy weight than kids further away.
Schools are cutting the most prevalent form of play in a kid's life, recess. Meanwhile, eight in 10 school principals report that recess has a positive impact on kids' academic achievement.
When so many problems can be addressed with such a simple solution, this country desperately needs to realize that the opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is toxic stress, depression, and soaring obesity rates. The absence of play leads to lagging test scores and staggering healthcare costs.
When we started out, the skeptics and cynics told us that it was impossible to move the needle on solving big social problems with a solution as simple as play. Well, these skeptics and cynics aren't naysaying quite so loudly anymore.
We hope you'll join our movement for play -- and check in regularly here on The Huffington Post to read the latest about play's promise and progress. After all, ensuring a balance of active play for everyone is the most easy, affordable, and enjoyable way to tackle some of our country's most pressing challenges.
Follow Darell Hammond on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kaboom