Workers are putting the finishing touches on a new playground in Vickery Meadow, the Dallas neighborhood home to many new immigrant and refugee families. To children here, the playground holds more meaning.
Padiri Ruhusa is 11 years old. His family moved from the Congo to Vickery Meadow before he was born, and they now live in the Stratford Hills apartments. When Padiri first heard they’d be getting their first-ever playground, he could hardly believe it.
“I was like, ‘Really?? Nahh, you’re joking with me.’ And then when they started building it, I was like, ‘Oh gosh! We’re having a playground!’”
For years, kids like Padiri didn’t have much in this neighborhood. He said the terrain was mostly “grass, poop, dirt.” And that meant they couldn’t do much, either. They ran around, kicked around a soccer ball and played cops and robbers.
“Mostly running stuff, cause all we had was dirt and grass,” Padiri said.
With this new playground, he and his friends will be able to spice up their games -- like freeze tag and hide and seek. Now, there’s a slide, monkey bars, a trampoline apparatus and everything a kid could ever want. Then again, Padiri and his friends aren’t your typical kids.
“Some have faced tremendous stress and tremendous persecution. They were in a refugee camp having to fight for their food and fend for themselves,” said Lenita Dunlap, the executive director of Heart House, a Dallas nonprofit that supports refugee families in Vickery Meadow.
Inside the neighborhood
This part of town is mostly apartments, just across Highway 75 from NorthPark Center. Much of the infrastructure here is old and dilapidated. Average household incomes generally range from $10,000 to $20,000, and most parents can’t speak English. When Ebola came to America last year, its first stop was Vickery Meadow.
“It’s an area that really needs help. It’s where the community has a lot of need, particularly kids,” said Jack Towsley, the playground’s executive sponsor from BlueCross BlueShield of Texas. The health insurance company partnered with the national nonprofit Kaboom to build this $100,000 playground and 22 others across Texas -- from Francis Elementary in Northeast Houston to Woodard Park in East San Antonio and the Loya YMCA in El Paso.
“Vickery Meadow is a place where a lot of folks come to the United States for the first time. It’s considered by many to be the front door of the United States,” said Towsley. “And so we said this is a real opportunity for us to step up and be a part of that community.”
'Kids realize that they're valued'
Heart House’s Lenita Dunlap says she’s touched by the interest in this neighborhood.
“It says that you took the time and that you value me. So our hope and goal is that the kids realize that they’re valued,” she said. “We want you to grow in a good space, and that no matter where you came from or the environment where you live, you too deserve the same access to the same things that other kids have.”
Studies show that play time at home and at school can fight childhood obesity, encourage social interaction, foster creativity, and reduce stress. Let’s turn to Padiri Ruhusa again, who certainly is an expert on being a kid:
“You don’t want be home inside, like a prison. You want to go outside and explore and have fun. You don’t want to be stuck in your house watching TV. I mean, TV can teach you stuff, but it won’t teach you a whole lot.”
No doubt, Padiri and the 400 or so kids in this complex are pumped up. They may not know it yet, but the playground is already teaching them how to make new friends, be creative and live healthier lives.