During the 18th century, in small towns and rural villages, neighbors would band together - enduring hard labor and shared sacrifice - to help construct and erect new barns. Barns were critical in colonial America, and "barn raisings,” were completed in one or two days with full cooperation from townspeople.
The practice served dual purposes: It created a space where livestock and grains could be kept safely, ensuring an adequate supply of food for the town, and just as importantly, bound communities together in the spirit of common purpose. Barn raising is a practice of the past - an activity mostly done in small, rural pockets of the country - but the concept of a community pulling its resources together continues to be alive to this day.
Nowhere was this notion more evident than last Thursday, when more than 200 volunteers from the Nashville Predators, Hunt Brothers Pizza and several other local companies spent the day turning an empty plot of land into a new playground for children at the Nashville Inner City Ministry.
The project, which was coordinated by non-profit organization KaBOOM!, was the fifth built with assistance from the Nashville Predators Foundation. The goal of the build was to create a safe space where kids can play and socialize, activities deemed critical to childhood development. Those spaces have been increasingly difficult to find in inner-city Nashville.
In fact, according to a report by the U.S. census released in 2014, 30.5 percent of Davidson County residents under age 18 live in poverty. Those residents often don't have access to safe green spaces or parks, leading to pockets of the city which are unsafe for children to go outside and play. It's an unfortunate side effect that can have catastrophic effects on the social fabric of a community. Despite the challenges, those involved in Thursday's build hope the new playground will help spark positive change.
"It's the beginning of a complete revitalization of the neighborhood," KaBOOM! project coordinator Rachel Malkusak explained. "It's a place where the children can safely interact with current adults in their lives."
Malkusak estimated that up to 4,000 children will benefit from the 3,000 square-foot space every year, and could prove to be an important catalyst for health and social change in the future.
"The kids are going to increase their active bodies," Malkusak said. "They are going to be able to have that developmental growth that is so critical to them on the mental, physical and social levels."
Rebecca King, senior director of community relations for the Nashville Predators, agreed: "Kids need places that are safe so that they can exercise and get out in the sun and stay in shape."
It took six hours of mixing concrete, moving mulch and constructing playground equipment, but with upbeat music, crisp air and some good old-fashioned hard work, KaBOOM!, along with the Nashville Predators and all the other participants engaged in their own modern "barn raising" to build something important they hope can endure and provide social nourishment.
"We all came together," King said. "We all paid a portion of the cost, we all provided volunteers, and so, we're leaving a legacy - the seven companies that are a part of this… We're hoping to leave behind something that will have a strong impact on our community."