Volunteers transform dirt patch to a playground

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Last Saturday morning started with a neglected patch of dirt in a back lot alongside the Destiny Middle School building in Tacoma’s Eastside. On this last weekend of the summer vacation before school starts and the campus adds Soar Academy’s elementary school to the jointly operated facility, the day ended with a sweaty but smiling group of volunteers and a brand new playground.

Destiny opened its doors in 2015 at the former John R. Rogers Elementary School in Tacoma’s Eastside neighborhood after undergoing a $6.9 million renovation to upgrade the 111-year-old building that had been vacant since the Tacoma Public School District closed the aging school in 2002. Destiny is a charter school of about 250 students. New this year is the addition of another charter school, the Soar Academy, that will co-locate in the building after outgrowing its former Hilltop location last year. The schools will remain independent of each other and simply share space in the building. But the addition of Soar’s 175 kindergarten to fifth-grade students to the campus made the addition of a playground more of a need than a want.

That need was filled courtesy of Let’s Play, an initiative by Keurig Dr. Pepper its non-profit partner KaBOOM!, that provided the funding and play equipment that an army of school volunteers and all around do-gooders from Columbia Distributing pieced together in a matter of hours.

“It’s a total team effort. It’s about providing children with a balanced, healthy lifestyle,” said Keurig Dr. Pepper Division Sales Manager Mark Meade, noting that the initiative has provided $28 million in playground equipment to schools and nonprofits around the nation since 2011.

This new playground came after a year of work that started with a grant application and rounds of calls, more detailed requests about the playground equipment and then coordinate all the partner groups together from as far away as Portland to get all the manual work done on a single day.

“It really put us on a fast timeline because we wanted to have this ready by the time school started,” SOAR Board Chairwoman Thelma Jackson said. “It’s been very exciting.”

One of the challenges is that the playground was going to be used by young children as well as older students. So there is a tetherball court alongside a jungle gym and garden boxes and four-square areas. The equipment is also painted either Soar’s plum and turquoise or Destiny’s lime green and navy blue.

“It’s a win-win-win,” Jackson said.

The new playground, however, comes at a sad time for Soar. The school is in mourning after two classmates and one of its parent volunteers died in a fatal car accident in Oregon earlier this month that ultimately left eight people dead. Erika Boquet had been involved in the planning of the playground because two of her three children attended Soar. They were killed when an oncoming car collided with their vehicle while they were on vacation. She and her family were remembered during a moment of silence before work began on Saturday and will be more formally memorialized with a bench and garden space in the park later this year.

They were buried Sunday, the day after the playground that Bouquet helped map out took shape without her.

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