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Jacksonville community receives 'dream' playground

April 14, 2014

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

(photos by: Jennifer Perez/PGA TOUR)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- On Saturday morning, downtown Jacksonville, Fla. was in the throes of its second annual One Spark celebration, a days-long gathering of artists and innovators, musicians, entrepreneurs and chefs. Investors scoured, looking to build on the next bright brand.

Three miles south and off the beaten path at a place where nothing gets taken for granted, another group gathered to build their next big thing; spirit and hope. This less demonstrative group built a playground.

In 2013, Humana, the official Health Benefits Provider of the PGA TOUR, held a unique incentive-based promotion for each event on the TOUR’s calendar. The Humana “WalkIt Challenge” offered free pedometers to every spectator at each PGA TOUR stop throughout the year. The tournament which generated the most cumulative steps was awarded a KaBOOM! Playground in a local area of its choosing.

With nearly 14,000,000 steps, last year’s PLAYERS Championship ran away with the title.

Sable Palms Apartments off Emerson Street in Jacksonville is categorized as Section 8 housing, which is defined, in part, as low-income households receiving rental housing assistance. In a world where dreams are fair game, it’s in places like these where the potential to achieve those dreams may appear further away. But, Saturday morning, that notion just may have tweaked a few mindsets.

“This is amazingly special to our kids. For these people to come out here and do this has been great,” said Eric Witherspoon, site manager for Community Connections, a local organization that runs after school programming at the apartment complex. “We’re not just building a playground here, we’re building spirits. It has just been amazing.”

“This all ties back in to the charitable give back. It’s what we do,” said Andy Baggs, 2014 PLAYERS Championship Volunteer Chairman. ”The PLAYERS has a long history of giving back, and these people out here helping us today are in it for the long haul. It’s not just a one-week-a-year thing. It’s a year-long commitment, every year.”

“These volunteers aren’t just active at the PLAYERS, they’re active throughout the community,” said PLAYERS Championship Executive Director Matt Rapp. “They’re on city boards and are active, active, active. These are folks who get out and do it. This is a perfect example of that happening.”

As morning broke, there was only speculation as to how many would show up to lend a hand. Quickly, designated parking lots filled to capacity. Representatives from the PLAYERS Championship staff, PGA TOUR, Humana, Florida State College at Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Community Connections combined for upwards of 200 individuals.

“This is a physical representation of what can happen when people come together,” Rapp said.” This is a challenged community. There are nearly 20 different languages spoken in this area. These are people who really need a hand up, so this is really special to be able to do something for them.”

“This is very special from our perspective at Humana,” said Laura Nolan, Health Solutions Sales Executive, Humana. “Our goal is to bring wellness to all the communities. So, to partner with the PLAYERS, who won this, and help them give back to the Jacksonville community in this way really helps continue that initiative and bring happiness and wellness throughout our entire community.”

 “Jacksonville is a community that supports each other,” said Nolan. “This is expected. People are thrilled to be here. They want to keep improving our community and I think this demonstrates perfectly what this town does.”

From the second floor of the Sable Palms Apartment complex, a little girl stood in seeming awe of the work underway around her. After a moment, she broke her gaze, pointed to a section of broken sidewalk below her and released a proclaiming yell; “I did that. I did that.” She pointed to a perfect smiling face, drawn on the cement with chalk. Above the inspired image were the words “Hey You! Smile” and “Be Happy.” There was the artist and innovator.

A short distance away, young Sable Palms residents sang and danced in a rehearsed synchronicity. There were the musicians and performers.

As the sun beat down over Jacksonville, the work on the playground continued. There were the investors, laying the groundwork for its next big brand; hope. And happiness. And assurance that all dreams are within equal reach, regardless of from where one starts.    


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