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Bylsma, Penguins Employees and Local Community Take Pride in Building Playground

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

When over 200 volunteers arrived at the 3rd Street Park in McKees Rocks bright and early Friday morning – including over 40 Pittsburgh Penguins employees, led by head coach Dan Bylsma – an empty site sat waiting for them.

Six hours, a heavy thunderstorm and many blisters, sunburns and tired bodies later, a brand-new children’s playground occupied the formerly vacant space.

“We have great fans. The ‘Burgh is proud of their sports teams,” said Bylsma, who worked at the site from start to finish. “For our team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to be out and being a part of the community – I know we take a lot of pride in it. Seeing the office staff out of the cubicles, out of the office and out here today sweating and getting something done is pretty fun stuff.”


The Penguins employees teamed up with volunteers from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, McKees Rocks Borough, the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation and organizers from KaBOOM!, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to “saving play” and encouraging kids to play outdoors.

“I was really surprised at the local community and the Penguins with the amount of people they both brought,” said Brian K. McGee, regional director of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. “It was a great turnout.

“We really want to get involved with an active lifestyle for the kids. I know that KaBOOM!’s mission is to have a playground within walking distance of every child, so we’re supporting that goal with them.”

While the Penguins players are constantly involved in the community, it’s difficult for the team employees to all leave the office for a daylong event like this. So when the opportunity arose, everyone jumped to the occasion.

“Most of the stuff we do is with players, which is great,” said Tom McMillan, vice president of communications for the Penguins. “But we’ve never really had an opportunity to have the staff do something like this. That’s what makes this unique.

“We did have players in town this week, but they were all at the hockey school. It’s very important for our organization to do things like this. This was kind of a perfect melding of a summer opportunity to let the office workers on behalf of the Penguins come out and do this.”

Although Bylsma returned late Thursday night from the 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Etobicoke, Ont., he didn’t use that as an excuse to miss out.

“Dan got the email and he insisted on coming, too, which was great,” McMillan said. “We didn’t anticipate that at all, but it was good to have the head coach here as a leader.”

The KaBOOM! project is part of “Let’s Play,” a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a Penguins corporate sponsor, to get kids and families active nationwide. The first “Let’s Play” initiative is a $15 million, three-year commitment to KaBOOM! to build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds by the end of 2013, benefitting an estimated five million children across the U.S.

“KaBOOM! is all about community building,” said Caleb Marshall, senior project manager with KaBOOM!. “The idea behind building the playground is that we’re bringing together the community in this endeavor, and hopefully we spark more great things to come from McKees Rocks.”

This particular playground began with a Design Day held in June, where the kids of McKees Rocks sat down and drew their dream playground and shared their ideas with the adults, who began working out the logistics.

After 8-10 weeks of planning, Build Day was ready to happen. The volunteers were initially divided into a number of groups, each working on a different aspect of the playground throughout the park.

The groups assembled a swing set, monkey bars and a jungle gym, to name a few. Yet another had the arduous task of spreading mulch over the entire site before the playground could be put into place.

"We are just thrilled to death to do this," said Maribeth Taylor, councilwoman for the 3rd Ward of McKees Rock, who said the playground will serve about 2,000 children between McKees Rocks and the neighboring Stowe Township. "Everybody's been talking all week saying that Friday is Christmas. It's just priceless. ... Just to put a piece of property like this to use and have the kids off the street and have a safe place to play, we're just so excited."

Bylsma was assigned to the group assembling picnic tables, where he donned his work gloves and got to work with some power tools.

“I did notice he did get the one task that got power tools, so when you’re the head coach you still get certain advantages when you come out here and volunteer,” McMillan joked.

Bylsma did have fun yielding the power tools, but he really found his niche in the final activity of the build, perhaps the most challenging of the day – filling the playground area in with mulch.

“Handyman I am not,” he joked. “I’m more a mulch kind of guy. Manual labor, which I’ve been strong at the last couple of hours.”

After the playground was finished and the children’s dreams became a reality, the day concluded with a ribbon cutting – done by the kids themselves.

“It was amazing,” Bylsma said of how it all came together. “All different piles, and now it’s ready to get played on here behind us.”

McKee may have said it best when addressing the hard-working group at the build’s conclusion:

“I think we’ve done something here we can be proud of for a long time.”




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