Welcome Darell Hammond, KaBOOM!, and Host Angelou Ezeilo, Greening Youth Foundation.

KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play

Host, Angelou Ezeilo:

Whether you are looking for a blueprint for how to run a successful non-profit organization, or just interested in reading an inspiring story about how a man from humble beginnings sparked a play movement for children around the country, KaBoom! is a must read.

The book lures you in at the very beginning with Hammond’s description of his childhood at his beloved Mooseheart group home. Mooseheart is indeed an orphanage for children in the community to be taken care of if their parent(s) have experienced some sort of hardship. However, after reading about the 1,200 acre home, you quickly realize that Mooseheart is where Darell and his 7 siblings learned some of life’s important lessons : kindness, generosity and community service.

“The process is as important as the product”, “When better is expected, good is not enough” and “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect” are only a few of what Hammonds calls “Boomerisms”, which are expressions that guide the work of Boomers (KaBOOM! employees). It is apparent that Hammond’s work ethic is something that is contagious throughout the playspace they call an office. The office is filled with slides, balls and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Boomers certainly understand fun first hand.

With the CDC’s unsettling statistic that less than 20 percent of kids live within a half mile of a park, Hammond does not take his work lightly. Most of the communities where KaBOOM! helps build playgrounds are in cities where children have little options for outdoor play. This single fact is why Hammond is not only focused on promoting KaBOOM!, but is spearheading a movement to ensure that children , in sync with the Surgeon General, have 60 minutes of play everyday- particularly outside! Hammonds stresses throughout the book that most American children are experiencing a deficit of play, which has lead to obesity, diabetes and many other illnesses plaguing children today.

Being the CEO of a non-profit certainly is wrought with challenges and obstacles. However, throughout the book, Hammond shares with the readers how he establishes and nurtures relationships within the corporate world that sets KaBOOM! apart from most non-profit organizations in this country. To date, KaBOOM! has raised about $200 million and built more than 2,000 playgrounds. KaBOOM! has sustained $20 million a year in revenue for 6 years running. KaBOOM! has also rallied one million volunteers….WOW! It’s no wonder why Harvard Business School has done two studies on KaBOOM! One study was done for its mass action model, and the other for its performance dashboard that measures impact and results.

The KaBOOM! movement has attracted the likes of many leaders who have dedicated their lives to children’s causes. Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund is one of Hammond’s mentors. The past three First ladies (Obama, Bush and Clinton) have all participated in KaBOOM! builds and are supporters of the movement. Athletes from the NBA, NFL , NHL and MLB have all been Boomerized. The KaBOOM! model has also been used in Canada and Mexico.

The most critical differentiator with Hammond’s KaBOOM! is the community. Although Hammond acknowledges that there are many communities that are in need of playgrounds, the criteria he uses to determine the next KaBOOM! build are the needs of the community. Is the community engaged? Is there a strong need? Will the community pull together to raise the necessary funds to build a playground, which demonstrates a vested interest? And most importantly, will the community join forces to make the playground a reality? With KaBOOM’s! fee-for-service model, corporate partners pay the majority of costs for the build; however, they benefit because they are able to provide its employees with a meaningful volunteer service opportunity. Undoubtedly, Hammond has created a win-win situation because the community and children also significantly win in the end.

Hammond’s KaBOOM! is refreshing, thought-provoking and interesting. As the owner of a fairly new non-profit, I can’t put it down!

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

67 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Darell Hammond, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play”

BevW June 25th, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Darell, Welcome to the Lake.

Angelou, Welcome to the Lake and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 1:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello Bev Thank you for having us!

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Welcome, Darell. I thoroughly enjoyed your book.
What inspired the creation of KaBOOM!?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:01 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 3

Thanks for having me. I grew up in a group home for 14 years and the tragedy of two young kids, Iesha and Claredon who suffocated in a car, struck me. There was a Washington Post article about No Place to Play. I and a friend decided to use our community organizing skills to create community built playgrounds.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Fascinating story and thank you for your commitment to the wowrk. Have you been posed with the question, Why underserved communities, don’t all children need playgrounds?

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

hi all –

darrell, how did you begin acquiring community organizing skills?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 5

Totally agree all children absolutely need play and playgrounds. As a nonprofit we target our resources in the communities that are child rich and playground poor. And part of our model is open sourcing. We have given away our tooks for free on our website for any person in any community to use to self organize.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Yes, love your mass action model! Can you tell us a little more about that. Seems that you are an advocate for the movement of play.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to cherwell @ 6

Growing up in a group home was a formative experience for me. I learned to take care of myself and often ended up taking care of others. My friends started to call me ‘the lawyer’ because I was always defending others. Figuring out solutions is something I am good at and I have been putting it to use for a long time.

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

thanks, darrell. one of the biggest obstacles for most non-profits is funding. you have succeeded brilliantly. how do you do it and how many playgrounds have now been built and funded in how many states?

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to cherwell @ 10

Completely agree. Darell seems to have been able to keep his focus on the cause and not the need for capital. How? is a great question ;0)

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 8

We just celebrated our 2000th build. We constantly work on improving what we do and how we do it. About six years ago, the senior team at KaBOOM! spent about a year developing a Going to Scale plan. We decided that the lack of play was too big for us to manage in our model of leading one build at a time with a Project Manager on the ground with the community. We build about 200 playgrounds a year in this fashion. In order to solve a problem of the scale that exists, the model of one to one was not going to work. We decided to use the internet to disseminate our process and build tools like our just released iphone ap and a project planner tool (learn more on kaboom.org). We also have a Playspace Finder which anyone can upload playspaces to and rate them. These tools help us (and policy makers) to see where the play deserts are. And it engages any citizen to be a part of the work. People can take small actions and big actions and make a difference.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Thank you, Darell. And…congratulations on the 2000 build!! The Going to Scale plan/model is impressive. You are essentially empowering communities by providing them the necessary tools and support. Love it.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to cherwell @ 10

2000 playgrounds in all 50 states as well as in Canada and Mexico. As I write about in chapter 8 of the book, our public private partnership model is based on doing with the community and not for the community. Therefore it is sustainable fundraising (with corporations joining in the effort and providing much of the funds) and sustainable outcome (well maintained playgrounds by communities who helped build and whose kids designed it). We also grew slow and steady. We have maintained funding partners by under promising and over delivering. We have funders (corporations) that have been with us for 10 and 15 years.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

“Under promising and over delivering”- isn’t that one of your “boomerisms?” Tell us how those came about- the book is filled with them.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

By the way, we were very fortunate to have been featured on the Today Show yesterday with a piece that Jenna Bush Hager did. You can see it on our website http://kaboom.org/. This sort of visibility is huge for us and so important for the cause of play.

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

[hear applause] congratulations. this is so inspiring as i, too, reside in atlanta and am aware of the urgency to get children outdoors thanks to the work angelou does and introduced me to, darrel.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

THanks, Cherie! I am so inspired by Darell- wanna be like him when I grow up ;0) However, Darell, those initial introductions and relationships to your funders… Can you elaborate on this?

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

me, too, angelou. you both humble me. i am seeking the video on your site, darrell. watching you with the first lady.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Speaking of sustainable, Darell can you share with us what KaBOOM! is doing to incorporate sustainable practices into your product/business.

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 15

The Boomerisms are phrases I used over and over with my team. They used to be called Darell-isms around the office. We are conscious that if the organization is too tied to me, it will run the risk of being stunted. We decided to start calling the Darellisms Boomerisms. They are statements that don’t describe what we do but describe how we do what we do to collectively achieve exponential impact. The Boomerisms reflect where we come from and how high we aim. Most of them derive from personal stories, for instance “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” is straight out of my experience playing football and a coach I had.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Got it, thank you. Love how you aggregated them in the back of your book for readers.

BevW June 25th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to cherwell @ 17

In the book I talk about Cynthia Gentry and the Atlanta Task Force on Play. You should look her up and connect. Her website is playatlanta.ning.com

Phoenix Woman June 25th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Nothing to add, just my sincere thanks that you’re doing what you’re doing. :-)

geemac June 25th, 2011 at 2:32 pm


This is your buddy George McDonald from the National Park Service. Let’s build more play space for children and adults. I grew up in New York City and we had great playgrounds which helped me to learn how to play basketball, baseball, football and tennis. Rap music was developed on the playgrounds of NYC in the late 70s and early 80s. These are special places.

Thank you also for all the great work GYF has provided the National Park Service. You and James are special people on a mission from someone…

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 25

thanks, darrell. i just watched you on the TODAY show segment. can we clone you? thanks for touching my heart.

BevW June 25th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Darell, where was the 2000th build? the community?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 18

Early on I started to attend things like the International Events Group (IEG) and had an opportunity to meet people from a variety of companies. We meet people at conferences and stay in touch.

Some of our introductions are from companies with whom we have worked where a senior executive or community affairs manager will introduce us to a colleague at another company.

The very best connection we make is with people who have experienced a KaBOOM! build and want to be a part of it.

A fun story is related to a current national partner for KaBOOM!. Fifteen years ago, one of our first funders to get behind us was Kimberly Clark. We worked with a woman named Tina Barry. She recently moved to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group and reached out to us. Dr Pepper Snapple is now one of our biggest funders. Fifteen years of a relationship can be a powerful thing.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to geemac @ 27

Thanks, George! GYF is so appreciative of your support and the National Park Service. Getting kids outdoors is what we are all about which is why we love KaBOOM!

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Sorry, experienced technical difficulties..

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 30

“Fifteen years of a relationship can be a powerful thing.” quite an understatement [smile]

Q: what is the cost & time frame to build a KaBOOM! playground?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to geemac @ 27

I’d love to know how many playgrounds exist in National Park facilities. Would like to think with you about how we can get those playgrounds uploaded to our iphone ap so people can fan them and plan playdates at them.

Some moms have started a Park a Day challenge and take their kids to different parks every day during the summer. Sort of like the passport to National Park program. aboom.org/take_action/summer_challenge_2011

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 30

Certainly shows the power of relationships. As a young organization, corporate partners is definitely something that we are constantly working on improving here in Atlanta

James June 25th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hey Darell,

You talked about play haters in the book. Do you see this group as serious or just people that have to have something to be angry about?

I grew up in the Bronx with four brothers and sisters. My parents thanked God every day during the summer for our neighborhood playground. I can’t see how anyone would have any issue with a company giving children a place to play and develop friendships.

You are doing great work!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to BevW @ 29

The 2000th build was in Congress Heights neighborhood of DC. We built at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School which is also serving as an anchor in the community providing GED classes and job training for parents, etc. In addition to being a playground for the 400+ kids of the school, while parents are attending other activities the kids can be using the playground.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

We believe that all kinds of play is important. Not just playground play. Kids need to be kids and escape the world through play. And play is also incredibly important to their development. At KaBOOM!, we believe that a great place to play is a place where kids will play longer, harder and want to come back more frequently. That isn’t just organized for them but is free and unstructured. We partnered with David Rockwell and created an innovative concept around Play Associates, sand, water, manipulable environment and loose and found parts. Check out: kaboom.org/about_kaboom/…/imagination_playground
We talk about this in chapter 13 of the book.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 37

Love the model for Congress Heights build. Are you planning any more of those?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 35

One of our relationships took five years to fully develop– that was with Ben & Jerry’s. It started small and grew to something big as opposed to starting big and ending quick. Some folks say I can be impatient (and that is probably true) but when it comes to building relationships, I think patience is incredibly important.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 38

Is Imagination Playground a component of KaBOOM! or a totally different entity?

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 40

Great tip, Darell…thank you. Patience is something I am working on too!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 39

We build playgrounds at all sorts of organizations and are always looking for those that can provide the biggest impact. The Imagine Southeast Charter School is a great example of the type of organizations with which we partner. The next day, we built a playground in Baltimore at a site where residents are stepping forward and taking action to change their community. The playground physically transformed the neighborhood. The fun thing to watch is what happens next. We say “it starts with a playground” because it is after the playground is built that you start to see all these great ripples. Sort of the Broken Windows theory in reverse. One success leads to another. Our model builds on the assets that exist instead of focusing on the deficits.

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 43

your web site is filled with immense amounts of information, darrell. thanks!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 41

Imagination Playground is a joint venture of two non profits (KaBOOM! and David Rockwell’s nonprofit playground initiative). It was structured as a for-profit to raise capital to scale the business so we can reach more kids and simultaneously provide kids a creative and playful outlet. It is a win-win.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to cherwell @ 44

I agree, your website is chuck full of information. Darell, it seems that you are always thinking about how KaBOOM! can grow. What are you working on now?

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 45

Thanks, Darell. Speaking of a win-win situation, it seems that communities are thoroughly satisfied with the end product. Tell us a little about some of the million of volunteers that are also involved in the experience.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to cherwell @ 44

Thank you. It goes along with our scaling strategy of many-to-many. Certainly many at KaBOOM! help to develop the content, but it is the community’s participation that matters most as people upload information, answer each others questions, provide new insights and share stories of the action they are taking in their own communities.

This allows us to reach areas that we would never get to otherwise. Whether it is higher income communities where kids need play (as was pointed out in a previous post) or locations around the world.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

You may want to check out this great post as well- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-galinsky/making-play-a-prioritythe_b_853246.html

Ellen is a great role model and for years has been addressing important issues related to families for years. We are honored to have her as a champion.

cherwell June 25th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 48

tout le plaisir était le mien!

you are part of the “rebuild the american dream” that van jones addressed and encouraged Thursday evening and this “chat” has sparked a myriad of ideas. thanks ever so much. it is high time we all became a part of the community we live in.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

On a personal note, I, too, run a non-profit with my spouse. Any tips on how to maintain balance between home and work? Do the lines ever blur?

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 47

Absolutely. We have had just over one million volunteers help us achieve our accomplishments over the last fifteen years. There are countless stories.

One special volunteer is Linda Prout who just attended her 47th build. She lives in New Orleans and is a tremendous person and citizen. We were honored to have her in DC recently to tour our offices and also to participate in the 2000th build.

The Linda Prout’s of the world are the ones who don’t look the other way when someone needs a helping hand.

Behind every build we do there are a handful of mom’s and dad’s who are working hard to keep others motivated. At the end of a build day there are often tears of joy and pride from the community members and the corporate volunteers as the ribbon is cut on the playground.

We randomly assign people jobs and it is fun to see people pushed outside their comfort zone. A fifty year old woman who is handed a sledge hammer and asked to pound metal stakes to hold the border timbers in place often incredulously tries to change projects because she has “never done this before”. And then at the end of the day she’ll look like Rosie the Riverter as she proudly rises the sledge hammer over her head in triumph as she looks at her finished work.

The volunteers are the mom’s and dad’s and aunts and uncles and caring folks from within the community. Firemen and police officers and veterans joining in with homemakers, teachers, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and employees from the funding organization. They all join together and build the playground designed by the kids. It is very cool.

By the way Linda Prout is featured as well as many other stories of some incredible volunteers are told in the book.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Darell, what type of sustainable practices are you incorporating into your business?

BevW June 25th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to cherwell @ 17

Darell, How long is the process from conception, purchase of equipment, completion and play.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 52

Thanks for sharing Darell. I enjoyed reading about Linda Prout in the book. You truly have a winning formula!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 46

We are working on partnerships with other organizations like PlayWorks, Alliance for Childhood and Fitness Forward as well as putting together a policy agenda that makes our work more proactive like getting recess reinstated in all of our schools. Additionally, when schools or anywhere children congregrate (public housing, etc.) are being built, we want to see the playground be funded right along with the building and for it not to be an afterthought. Those are some of the things I am working on these days.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 56

Good stuff! My 9 year old told me while school was still in that he hates how his school treats recess as a privilege. He and all of his little buddies understand how recess rejuvenates their minds and hates when it is taken away for misbehavior. Funny that adults don’t understand how critical it is!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Angelou Ezeilo @ 53

A couple of years ago we dove deep on our process and how to decrease the amount of trash generated in a 200 person build day. We have drastically reduced the amount of waste going to the landfill by working in advance to plan how the materials can be reused and recycled.

We also contracted an external expert to help us assess equipment manufacturers and their footprint. We are using a company who was top rated in this study.

We have been experimenting in creating playspaces from nature. We created a cool playground in Hawaii at a YMCA location that was a great model for this. Recently in DC after a storm that knocked down some trees, a fallen tree was cut into chunks and used as stepping stones and an obstacle course. They can also be used as seating around a communal table on a site.

We constantly review what we are doing and develop best practices. We share those on line as well.

James June 25th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I would love to see our youth corps members working to clean out public land and work with community partners and corporations to build play spaces at city parks, state parks and yes…….federal spaces.

It would be a great opportunity to engage students (18-24).

Darell, have you worked with federal agencies or constructed any play spaces on federal land?

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Excellent. At Greening Youth Foundation (www.gyfoundation.org) in addition to our mission of connecting underserved youth and young adults to the outdoors and careers in conservation, we have a youth conservation corps that works closely with the National Park Service to provide paid internship opportunities across the country.

Perhaps we can talk about how our orgs can collaborate on a project similar to what was done in Hawaii and DC utilizing our interns? Maybe we can get the National Park Service or Forest Service involved.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:41 pm
In response to BevW @ 54

It is important to get the right people at the table and part of the process. It can take a community years to accomplish the entire project. On the flip side, in the book we tell the story of a community that accomplished the whole process in just about four months. In that example there was a tragedy that became the catalyst for that particular playground build.

We have worked to develop our online tools so that they ‘meet people where they are at’. There is no magic timeline. A community might need to work through land ownership issues, soil remediation, or simply take steps to engage all levels of the community in the experience. In each community the timeframe will be different based on many factors.

A playground can cost thousands of dollars to millions of dollars and anywhere in between.

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to James @ 59

Good strategy is always about trade offs. To date, we have not had any federal funding and that has been an intentional decision. We will continue to focus in on the types of organizations we are currently serving.

Having said that, we have had some great volunteers help us with build days, i.e. AmeriCorps NCCC, Job Corps, the Navy Seabee’s, etc. These sorts of partnerships are developed primarily on the local level and are part of the community story.

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to Darell Hammond @ 61

“The process is just as important as the product”..another great boomerism!

BevW June 25th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Darell, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, the organization of KaBOOM!, and enriching children’s play.

Angelou, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Darell’s website and book – KaBOOM!

Angelou’s website – Greening Youth Foundation

Bill Zimmerman – Troublemaker: A Memoir From the Front Lines of the Sixties
Hosted by Richard Flacks

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Darell Hammond June 25th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I want to thank Angelou for hosting this and for her good work with the Greening Youth Foundation. I hope people will read, and be inspired by the book, learn something, and take action that will magnify our impact and amplify our work. Thank you for being a part of the movement to ‘save play’; you can help to ensure that all children have a great place to play. Come to http://www.kaboom.org and learn more!

Angelou Ezeilo June 25th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

THank you, Darell for an intriguing and thought-provoking discussion.

Bev, thanks again!

geemac June 26th, 2011 at 10:48 am

@Darell: Let’s talk about NPS urban playgrounds. My email is george_mcdonald@nps.gov. I will get some of my NPS RTCA colleagues involved on a conference call.

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