Volunteers build first Family Fitness and Fun Park

By: Maureen Leahy

By Maureen Leahy

Read more about AAOS playgrounds

Hundreds of orthopaedic surgeons and family members, Academy staff, industry partners, and local residents rolled up their sleeves yesterday and, with the aid of the Jefferson Playground Athletic Association and the Jefferson Park and Recreation District, built the Academy’s first Family Fitness and Fun Park on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Although the Park marks the continuation of the Academy’s long-standing tradition to build a playground in the Annual Meeting’s host city, this year’s efforts were unique. The Family Fitness and Fun Park in New Orleans’ Jefferson Park is more than just a playground—it promotes physical activity across three generations, providing activities for children, parents, and even grandparents.

Michael Lewis, ambassador of the New Orleans Saints, was one of the many participants in the AAOS Family Fun and Fitness Park build.

“This multi-generational park,” said John T. Gaffney, DO, “will aid in building muscle strength, developing eye-hand and muscular coordination in children, and offering adults who may be recuperating from total joint replacement a safe walking/running track to keep joints mobile.” Dr. Gaffney and John M. Purvis, MD, were co-spokespersons of the build.

Dr. Gaffney stressed the importance of physical activity not only in children’s development, but also its role in keeping adults healthy. “We know that without physical fitness, conditions such as osteoporosis will worsen and bone loss increases,” he said.

Fun for all
“This is a great cooperative effort between the AAOS, the Parish, and the Jefferson Playground Booster Club,” said Councilman Elton Lagasse, who played at Jefferson Park as a child. “It’s great to see this many people coming out and doing something good for kids.”

Amanda Reed, president of the Jefferson Mustangs Booster Club, agreed. “Having the playground build here at Jefferson Park is like the Super Bowl all over again,” she said, referring to excitement surrounding the New Orleans Saints’ recent Super Bowl appearance and victory. “We’re so excited about this volunteer effort—the AAOS are the Saints of the Jefferson playground.”

The community is also thrilled that the park offers a truly accessible play area for children with disabilities.

“Our job as members of the parents’ club is to keep children off the streets,” said Ms. Reed. “Now we’ll also be able to provide disabled children in the neighborhood a safe place to play. How amazing is that?”

Dressed in colorful commemorative t-shirts, the volunteers were divided into teams, and team leaders—accessorized with whimsical, easy-to-recognize apparel—were appointed. While some teams hammered, fastened, and drilled equipment into place, others raked sand, mixed concrete, maneuvered wheelbarrows full of soil and mulch, and planted trees and shrubs. Despite the threat of rain, spirits were high as everyone worked to the festive beat provided by DJ Royal Montz. Local celebrities, including Michael Lewis, ambassador of the New Orleans Saints, and Tom Dempsey, Hall of Famer and former Saints kicker, were also on hand to lend support and encouragement.

Volunteers worked under the guidance of KaBOOM!, a national, nonprofit organization that brings businesses and community groups together to develop playgrounds that are accessible to children of all physical abilities. All the Park’s equipment and activities are designed to help build strong bones, reduce and prevent falls, and provide those recovering from joint replacement a healthy place to exercise.

At 10 a.m. the clouds opened up, and although this was a rain-or-shine event, the volunteers were forced to take shelter when lightning flashed across the skies. Determined to stay on schedule, they resumed work with fervor after the 1-hour delay.

Building fun that lasts
In 2003, when Annual Meeting was last held in New Orleans, Academy volunteers built a 5,896 square-foot playground in the 1,500-acre City Park located in the heart of New Orleans. Although Hurricane Katrina devastated City Park, the playground remarkably survived.

Community residents are determined this year’s efforts will be just as resilient. Jefferson Park has been around for many years, and thanks to today’s rebuilding efforts, its legacy will live on stronger than ever.

“It was remarkable to see the generations of people who were involved in planning Jefferson Park’s rebuild,” said New Orleans resident and local chair Michele M. Zembo, MD, MBA. Dr. Zembo, an 8-year playground build veteran, was involved early on in the Park’s planning efforts.

“It was just such a neat thing to hear adults say how they used to play here when they were young, and that they wanted to be part of its rebuild so that their children and grandchildren can also appreciate it,” she said.

Now, all three generations can enjoy the Park together. It’s situated adjacent to a senior citizen building; when seniors need a break from indoor activities, they’ll be able to go outside and walk the track that circles the playground.

AAOS First Vice President John J. Callaghan, MD, dedicated the Park, and Mr. Lewis participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, marking the end of an exhausting, soggy, and exhilarating day. The empty field was transformed into a colorful state-of-the-art play and exercise space with a special area for Tai Chi, and exercise stations specially designed to improve balance, flexibility, and strength. These stations include explanations of the exercises and their importance, and also include how-to information and injury-prevention tips.

A safe, wheelchair-accessible playground sits in the middle of the Park. Featuring a spiral slide, swings, a jungle gym, and more, it’s a place where 5- to 12-year-olds, with and without disabilities, can all have fun together. A casualty of the rain, the walking/running track should be completed within a day or two.

More than just a place to play, Jefferson Park truly promotes health and fitness for everyone. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped make the first AAOS Family Fitness and Fun Park such a great success!