Hundreds gather to construct playground in Chickahominy park


— In a matter of hours, six to be exact, a playground rose from the ground Saturday at the Audrey Simpson Jones Park in Toano.

Nearly 250 volunteers in bright red T-shirts worked to construct the even brighter red, purple and yellow playground central to Toano's Chickahominy community, a rural area of approximately 400 to 500 homes and an area that previously did not have a playground.

It was an effort by the community, for the community, spearheaded by the Chickahominy Community Improvement Organization in partnership with Williamsburg Health Foundation and KaBOOM!, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works in communities across the country to organize similar builds.

"The weather couldn't have been better, and volunteers were excited, enthusiastic, capable, hard working," said Jeanne Zeidler, president and CEO of the health foundation. "A very diverse group of people out there. Certainly from the Chickahominy neighborhood, but also from all over the community."

The Chickahominy Community Improvement Organization (CCIO), founded in 1969, bought the park's land two years ago, according to organization president Linda Wallace-Cody. The playground is the first phase in continued improvement to the park, she said.

"It will be a gathering place for the kids, and give them something to do," said Irma Hawkins, CCIO member and life-time resident. "This is the only equipment in the area that they can come and play on."

Hawkins plans to bring her great-grandchildren to the playground when they visit. One of her great-grandkids, four-year-old Kimaun, currently lives with her. He dashed around the playground Tuesday afternoon.

Wallace-Cody said the Chickahominy neighborhood is roughly bounded by Chickahominy and Little Creek Dam Roads. Upper County Park is closest to the area, but Wallace-Cody said the distance is too far to walk, with no public transportation available to the park.

The playground required a $100,000 grant from the Williamsburg Health Foundation, as well as $8,500 raised by the CCIO. But the playground wouldn't have been possible without KaBOOM! which, since 1996, has improved and built nearly 16,300 playgrounds.

The Chickahominy playground is the second of its kind constructed in James City County since 2015. Last fall, the Williamsburg Health Foundation and KaBOOM! partnered with the Grove neighborhood to build a playground near Grove Heights Avenue.

"It gives them a safe place to play for one thing, which is very, very important," Zeidler said. "It encourages kids to go outside and to be active and to move, which is clearly something that helps them continue to be healthy."

For Lawanda Meekins, who has lived in the community for a year and a half, the playground will be more than just a place for her two young daughters to play, although she expects they'll play there often.

"I think it's a good opportunity for the community," Meekins said. "So we can still fellowship together and gather together."

Meekins sees the playground as a place for the children of the community to interact. Apart from Chickahominy Day, an annual community event, she said there's really no place for kids from opposite ends of the area to play with each other.

Wallace-Cody has lived in the community her entire life, and she remembers a more close-knit community.

"We had our downfalls, but we always came together as a community," she said. "It takes a village to raise a child, and that's what this community was."

"We need this to come back in the community," she said.

The playground, and the park, will serve as a place for families to gather and to be active together. Moving forward, Wallace-Cody hopes to organize more community activities at the park.

"I think the community's excited," she said. "It gives them hope, and there's going to be a change."

The community will celebrate Chickahominy Day on Oct. 29, with line-up for parade starting at 9:45 p.m. at Toano Middle School.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

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