2020 caused many things to shift to digital platforms, from schools to businesses to in-person events, people have spent many hours this year behind a screen. However, the Geyer Family YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Montclair, is building a new playground to encourage children in their community to power-off their electronics and get outside.
“Prior to COVID-19, we have really worked to make our Geyer Family branch an early learning center,” said Buddy Evans, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Montclair in Montclair, New Jersey. “So, we have a little plot of land behind the branch and we felt like having an outdoor activity and getting children to move was super important. The location of this branch is in a part of town where there are apartments with a lot of children in the community so we thought it would be a great asset to have a playground.”
The Geyer Family Y partnered up with the Department of Art and Design at Montclair State University to help create a playground design that embodied the spirit of Montclair and shows what Montclair is all about — inclusiveness, welcoming and open to all.
However, COVID-19 put a stop to the playgrounds progress. While COVID-19 stopped the process, Evans said it also helped the Y see the need for the playground.
“Knowing a little about COVID-19 and knowing it’s very important to get children away from screen time, and to get them outside into fresh air to a little bit of a healthier environment, it really made the playground essential for us,” said Evans. “So, we re-launched our campaign to finish this out. This is a top priority for us – we are looking to finish this playground and really make it a nice asset for the community. It will be an inclusive playground and handicap accessible. We are just excited about getting it done and looking forward to it.”
If all goes well, the Y plans to break ground before the end of the year with an expected ribbon cutting in early spring of 2021. While the Y hasn’t hit their fundraising goal yet, Evans said they are confident they will get there.
The Y has received generous donations from Investors Foundation, the Provident Bank Foundation, as well as several individual donors for the playground. Sovos Brands/Rao’s Homemade joins this effort by generously providing the Y a contribution of $20,000 for playground construction in November.
The donations to help bring a playground to the Geyer Family Y community shows the importance of playgrounds even in the digital age.
Evans said playgrounds are important for multiple reasons, one being they are important for outdoor activities. The Y themed their upcoming playground so it’s not as typical – there is a learning element. Most of all, Evans said playgrounds are a fun place where children get a chance to experiment, and they get a chance to be outdoors and exercise.
“Unfortunately, the times we’re in now, children are behind desks or sitting at screens and screen time is way too high,” said Evans. “So, I think putting the laptops away, putting the phones away or whatever they may have away, and getting them outside to just experience the outdoors, do some healthy activities with friends, and build relationships and creating good experiences are just critical.”