Growing up on a farm in the far northwest burbs of Chicago, I was super lucky to have a handful of brothers and sisters to torment me not to mention plenty of room to play and I also lived close to some of the coolest parks ever.  Not everyone is so fortunate though as places to play are disappearing especially for the 16 million kids living in impoverished communities.

KaBOOM! a national non-profit is doing something about it by working to make sure all kids have access to “the balanced and active play needed to thrive.”  Think about it.  Consider the school districts that suffer budget cuts and the first thing to go is gym and recess.  Yet study after study shows that play deficits create behavioral issues including increased problems with social integration, conflict resolution, obesity and oftentimes violence.  For example, in neighborhoods where there is a “play desert”, the incidence of childhood obesity increases 29%.  And it’s a vicious cycle.  Cut one program and then you see the need to compensate by treating the affects as opposed to working to prevent the issues in the first place.

For their Leaders Summit, KaBOOM! made its’ way to Chicago where they pulled together 12 Team Cities from across the country who are doing the most ground-breaking work in play advocacy within their respective communities.  Over two days, the participants worked together with experts and facilitators to develop, critique and refine each teams’ ideas for making their cities and towns more playable and I was happy to be there, camera in hand.

KaBOOM! could have easily hosted their summit in the heart of Chicago at one of the many posh hotels but chose to go over to the Pilsen neighborhood and worked with the people at Blue|1647 who gave them free reign to create a playground of their own which included balloons, castles, bike paths, excessively large playing cards and a ton of color.  Needless to say, this was a departure from the feel of the majority of corporate events I have photographed.  If only there was room for a tornado slide!

Following the introductions, a panel of experts discussed how just as cities have made walkability and bikeability a priority, playability should also be examined as many cities are competing for residents.  This was followed by a presentation by each city who shared their ideas and addressed their city’s biggest challenges.  And the presentations were not limited to Power-Points.  Instead, there were game show scenarios and a few beach balls involved.

I thought this was pretty brilliant.  After their presentations, each team city gathered together with an expert from the panel and a moderator from the KaBOOM! staff who made notes from their discussion on a whiteboard, detailing the advice and critique each expert had to offer in an effort to realize their cities’ ambitions for playability.

Even more brilliant, as all of these ideas were being bounced around there was an illustrator onsite who was also making notes but via hand drawings.  He was using white boards, 9 foot tall cardboard walls and plenty of imagination to put a spotlight on the concepts and objectives shared by each group.

There was so much to cover during these two days that I do believe I beat my own record for the number of images captured.  It was something close to 3500 but of course, with an edit of the blinks and not so flattering expressions, I narrowed it down to close to 1700, super awesome images that capture the story of the Summit (if I do say so myself).

Chicago Event Photographer

A very BIG! thanks to the KaBOOM! staff for putting on such an original, innovative and informative event and inviting me to cover it!