The Blue Jackets and the Blue Jackets Foundation are on a mission to help kids get healthy, play safely and stay active. They are making that vision a reality by committing to build eight Blue Jackets themed playgrounds throughout central Ohio over the next four years.
This week marks the unveiling of the second of those playgrounds. The first was completed a few weeks ago at Glenwood Park, and now, one is open at Windsor Park as well. What makes these play areas special isn't just that they have a hockey theme, but they are part of a long-term commitment to make the neighborhoods in Columbus better.
"We traditionally have given a number of different grants of different sizes," said Kathryn Dobbs, Columbus Blue Jackets Vice President of Community Relations and Executive Director of the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation. "When it came to this grant, we had a chance to move the needle. We spent a great deal of time finding the right match for the unique resources of this team and the needs of the community. Our goal was to find where we can really connect."
But the Blue Jackets aren't doing this alone. They have the support of Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther who launched a campaign to make vulnerable communities safer for children to play and be with friends and family. The Jackets are also working hand in hand with Columbus Recreation and Parks who had helped them with previous builds in the city.
"Building playgrounds was an idea we knew we could scale to the community," Dobbs said. "And with Recreation and Parks, they have the resources to support the build and help maintain it afterwards. They matched the funds we granted. Our $400K was matched by Parks and Recreation and we've set aside funds for continued support of these playgrounds."
But writing a check wasn't enough. Over the course of two dedicated days of work this week, over 125 Blue Jackets employees volunteered their time to bring the Windsor Park playground to life. First, there was a day of preparatory work on Monday followed by final construction and assembly Wednesday.
Blue Jackets staff counsel Peter Lovins volunteered at Windsor Park, it's the fourth Jackets' playground he's been a part of.
"The work of the Foundation is so important for the entire community," Lovins said. "And it's equally just as important for the Blue Jackets staff as a whole to support the Foundation's initiatives. Besides, it's a fun team building opportunity for employees to work with others you may not get to know otherwise."
Along with Lovins, Blue Jackets alumni Andrew Cassels and Jody Shelley were among the volunteers decked out in Blue Jackets gear doing everything from putting together slides to hauling mulch all over the playground.
"When you look at the playgrounds we've built, we do that well," Dobbs said. "We're good at building playgrounds. We're good at activating people to build those playgrounds, and our team has put in the blood, sweat and tears to make these playgrounds a reality. It's a tangible representation of all of our philanthropic efforts."
And the impact will be felt for years to come. The city is directing the plan for which parks receive playgrounds and at least one per year will be near a community center. This means there will be an even more comprehensive set of resources for neighborhood residents.
The goal is ultimately to have a playground within a half mile of every home.
"it's really going to make our centers places for children and families to gather where they can have safe, constructive outlets," Mayor Ginther said. "They can get some physical activity in, blow off some steam and enjoy each other. That's what our neighborhoods are all about."
Making those neighborhoods better is just the beginning of how the Foundation hopes they can thank central Ohio residents for the support they have given the Blue Jackets through the years.
"It really reminds us of what a great organization (the Blue Jackets) are and how fortunate we are to have them so embedded in our community," Ginther said. "There aren't too many other organizations I would argue around the country that are stepping up in this type of way. Having our home team leading the way, and challenging folks from other parts of the community to step up and invest in our neighborhoods, (the Blue Jackets) been a great pace setter."