Bring on the fun

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Deontae Scott, 8, gets expressive while going over on the big ball as Miracle Ford, 6, right, watches, at Capitol Square apartments. BREC on the Geaux, a playground on wheels that brings different types of activities to children in underserved areas like housing projects in the parish, visited the apartments.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Deontae Scott, 8, gets expressive while going over on the big ball as Miracle Ford, 6, right, watches, at Capitol Square apartments. BREC on the Geaux, a playground on wheels that brings different types of activities to children in underserved areas like housing projects in the parish, visited the apartments.

When the truck drove into the apartment complex just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, little faces began peeking through windows and cracked doors.

As the BREC on the Geaux delivery truck — brightly painted and full of trampolines, jump ropes, hula hoops and a playground’s worth of other toys — was unloaded, three dozen children began to move out to the grass and wait with anticipation. Soon the common area at the Capitol Square apartments filled with toddlers, teens and parents running from toy to toy.

“I think this is a blessing,” said Julia Ford, who watched her 6-year-old daughter, Miracle, hopscotch on a fabric ladder laid on the grass. “This is so awesome that you could even have done this for the kids.”

Designed to reach places labeled “play deserts,” BREC on the Geaux takes the park to the children, said Cheryl Michelet, director of communication for BREC, the parks and recreation commission for East Baton Rouge Parish. BREC used grant money from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana Foundation’s Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana to fund the mobile playground.

Wednesday was the first day of the program, and Capitol Square the first stop. They hit four sites a day, with 90 minutes of play at each. Different equipment, including inflatable playground toys, will rotate through each week.

Two counselors set up the mobile playground at Capitol Square, then led the children through the activities.

There were miniature hurdles leading to a miniature trampoline, an obstacle course to kick a soccer ball through and huge bouncy balls. Lierica Boutte, a counselor, led a group through muscle-building exercises using stretchy resistance bands the children stood on and pulled to work on their biceps.

“Try to bring it up as high as you can!” she yelled.

“Don’t hurt yourself!” said Cody Williams, a 13-year-old football player at Glen Oaks Middle School who tried to outdo Boutte.

BREC wants to add more trucks, said Diane Drake, the assistant director of recreation programs, who brought the idea from her former employer, the park and recreation system in East Point, Ga. There they used an old police SWAT team truck.

Children at Capitol Square have few options for play, said Ford, who took to the playground with her children.

“I’m just a child!” she yelled while jumping the mini hurdles and bouncing off the trampoline. “I’m a child, too!”

Her 4-year-old son, Wayne Ford, ran from toy to toy, spending only a few minutes in the shade of a live oak tree. His favorite part? The trampoline.

“Jumping is shooting up,” he said. “If you have a big trampoline, you can touch the sky.”

Throughout the morning parents filled out surveys on the children’s play and fitness habits, which the Pennington Biomedical Research Center will analyze and present to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, Michelet said.

Playing is good for children, but hard to study, said John Lopez, a BREC program coordinator.

“Play is a foundation or a fundamental element of community, play in a nonthreatening environment,” said Lopez, who added that statistics on the beneficial nature of playing are hard to create.

“But we all know it’s important,” he said.