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Editorial: Wilson Foundation is working for healthier kids

If children have the opportunity to play, they will take it. That may mean running, jumping, skipping rope or hopping back and forth on lines drawn in chalk.

This was the state of play so many of us grew up with and somehow got lost over the decades.

Yes, video games have become ubiquitous. Few children leave home without some device to watch, play or to use to get lost on social media. Then there are the children who grow up in unsafe places, where going outside to play comes with risks.

Unfortunately, the lack of physical activity is adversely affecting children’s health. Experts talk about the increased incidence of diabetes among young people, and worry about the long-term effects of sedentary lives.

The $5 million being provided by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation in Western New York will bring positive change. The goal is to build small, innovative play spaces, custom-designed playgrounds and skate parks in Western New York. The foundation is also donating the same amount in Southwest Michigan which will bring the Wilson Foundation’s total investment to $10 million. In that, the project is reminiscent, if on a smaller scale, of the libraries built by Andrew Carnegie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The reason for the effort is to create play spaces for this younger generation who are more sedentary than previous ones. The Wilson Foundation is partnering with the nonprofit KaBOOM! to create play spaces and the Tony Hawk Foundation to build skate parks.

Jim Boyle, the Wilson Foundation’s vice president of programs said the vision with “Built to Play” is to create more opportunities and places to recreate. But it is to be “owned and embraced by the kids and families they serve.”

The funds will create up to 20 play spaces and 20 skate parks combined in the Buffalo and Detroit areas, plus two “dream playgrounds” in each region. It is the “Built to Play” initiative, based largely on the “State of Play” report the foundation released in 2017 in conjunction with the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program.

The results of the report showed about 18 percent of all children as physically inactive, drawing a correlation with low-income families. Team sports participation also declined by income level for ages 6 to 12 in the survey. That’s both disheartening and risky, given how sports has been one of the avenues to get kids into college.

The report recommended more free play areas in the most unusual places. Picture a bus stop featuring a swing, or a laundromat featuring a four-square court. KaBOOM! has accomplished such feats and is ready to do it here.

First the public must get involved from start to finish in the design of the play space and planning. Then the public will get down and dirty in helping to build the innovative play spaces. KaBOOM! will award $720,000 in grants through the Play Everywhere Challenge, ranging from $10,000 to $80,000.

The Tony Hawk Foundation promotes high-quality, public skate parks in low-income areas. It has helped build more than 500 skate parks across the nation. The need is obvious when a skateboarder transforms a handrail into a skate slope. There have to safer solutions.

Encouraging kids to be physically active and get out and play is critical to their health, as the “State of Play” report noted in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of an hour of activity per day. But it is also an important national security effort. America needs healthy kids to grow up and fill the ranks of our military, police and fire.

Making innovative play spaces so kids can be kids is a powerful contribution to society.

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