Kids Tackle New Playground With Hometown Huddle Project

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First was the work. Then it was play time, for everybody.

Seven Packers players and a group of students from Beaumont Elementary School in Green Bay put the finishing touches on the school's new playground on Tuesday, tackling piles of wood chips that began the afternoon taller than some of the kids themselves.

Using any combination of rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows, the wood chips were spread evenly throughout the new playground equipment, providing a soft, safe surface for the kids to run wild on when school let out less than an hour later.

The manual labor was part of this year's NFL/United Way Hometown Huddle project, and the kids in particular were wasting no time getting their new playground ready.

"You can tell they're excited," said safety Charlie Peprah, who along with offensive linemen Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz, cornerback Will Blackmon, receiver Brett Swain and linebacker Tracy White joined the dedicated youth on their customary Tuesday day off.

"A lot of the times we do events, they're more worried about meeting us than the actual event. But here, they were getting to work. They were worried about the playground and the equipment and things like that more than us. They were working harder than we were, so it was a lot of fun to see how excited they are to get on this playground."

There were a total of 11 students who got out of school early to help with the project. Ten of them were fourth- and fifth-graders who won an essay contest that posed the question, "Why is it important to give back to your community?" Many answers were thoughtful and heart-felt, according to Beaumont principal Cindy Schneider.

"Some of these children, their families have been in positions where they needed help from the community, and that's where they were coming from is, 'You know what, I know what it's like, and we truly do need to give to others,'" Schneider said.

"They also felt that it's the way you feel when you give back, too. Some of these kids mentioned that it makes you feel good to give to others. They talked about food drives and helping elderly out, and they were kind of all over the place with just plain thinking it was a good idea. The contest was about the message. If we felt it came from the heart, that was a winner."

The 11th student was a fifth-grader a year ago when she wrote what Schneider called a "persuasive letter" to the Green Bay Parks & Recreation Department asking for additional swings to be erected at Beaumont. The request was initially denied, but it wasn't forgotten.

"When this Hometown Huddle money became available, the Park & Rec Department pulled out that letter again, and that's how we came to the top of the list," Schneider said.

Once the wood chips were taken care of, school let out and dozens of kids gathered around their new playground, an Evos play-system from Landscape Structures, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Constructed last week, the equipment had been surrounded by a protective fence until Tuesday, so the kids had only seen it and been waiting anxiously to test it.

With the formalities complete, they did just that, and with plenty of gusto. Even Colledge climbed a rope ladder to one of the higher beams to pose for pictures with the excited throng of elementary schoolers.

For the players, community events can be a regular part of their routine, but they admit they're extra special when they see so many young kids involved.

"I think so, definitely," Peprah said. "I love being around kids, interacting with kids. It reminds you where you came from.

"You were this age at one point in time, dreaming to become a Packer player, dreaming to become whatever you wanted. Coming down here and giving back just shows them that the goal is attainable, that we're just normal people like they are growing up, and it's a lot of fun to be around them."

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The new equipment, an Evos play-system from Landscape Structures, was purchased through Gerber Leisure Products, a Mount Horeb, Wis., company that designs and constructs playgrounds.

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