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UCOP volunteers create a colorful and healthy playground at Emerson Child Development Center

For the students at Emerson Child Development Center in Oakland, it was an exciting sight: Thirteen volunteers from UCOP were turning their playground into a colorful painted array of fish, animals, fruits and veggies, alphabet letters and games such as hopscotch. But the volunteers weren’t merely beautifying a plain stretch of black asphalt: They were helping the children to be healthy and to learn.

Knowing that the Office of the President Professional Community (OPPC) affinity group is focused on helping Oakland schools, UC CalFresh Program Manager Tuline Baykal suggested the playground project at Emerson. UC CalFresh, a division of UCANR, is a federally funded program that provides nutrition education to low-income communities at risk. Its Alameda County outreach provides 28 Oakland Unified preschools with nutrition education and materials, as well as training and technical assistance to teachers.

Good health requires an environment that supports it, including the opportunity for physical activity. The Emerson playground stencil project was designed with two goals: to encourage the children to engage in playful exercise, and to reinforce what they were learning in the classroom. This included not only grade school staples such as the alphabet, numbers, and the names of shapes and animals, but the ABCs of good nutrition. Using a concept called “My Plate” that promotes nutritionally balanced eating, the playground’s colorful paintings of fruits and vegetables make eating healthy food seem fun.

Exercise was made inviting with stencils of classic playground games such as hopscotch and four square, as well as zig-zag and curved lines that help improve balance and coordination when kids walk on them. The Emerson teachers were given a book of suggested activities on how to integrate the stencils into play, but the students didn’t seem to need any prompting. Upon seeing the painted playground, one student exclaimed, “That’s hopscotch and you need a pebble to play!” Others called out the names of shapes, colors, fruits and vegetables or recited the alphabet.

“Please know you are changing lives,” said Baykal in thanking the UCOP volunteers for their “time, creativity and enthusiasm.” Led by OPPC Chair Kay Francesca Coelho, the group had cheerfully spent the warm afternoon of Friday, Sept. 23 crouching and kneeling on hard surfaces in order to complete the project. But the rewards were immediate.

Andrea Simpson, senior paralegal in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), said that she “had a great time painting animals with Lizzy Ellis and getting to know UCOP colleagues. It was great to see the kids excited about the newly painted vegetables, fruits, animals, alphabet and games — especially when they recognized something: ‘Oooh fish, blue fish, bubbles.’

Her partner-in-painting Lizzy Ellis, BRC analyst, agreed that “it was lots of fun, the kids were oh so cute and enthusiastic about our being there. And it’s true Andrea and I had a lovely time painting a beautiful turtle…and a slightly misshapen frog.”

Zina Slaughter, director of the UC Student Health Insurance Plan, summed it up best: The volunteers’ reward was “to see the playground transformed from nothing to this explosion of color, play and exploration for the kids.”


List of volunteers for Emerson playground painting project:

Andrea Simpson, senior paralegal analyst, OGC

Angela Hom, indexer, ITS

Aymen Manai, programmer analyst, ITS

Darbi Howard, parent of Emerson student

Elizabeth Ellis, BRC analyst

Elizabeth McWhorter, admissions specialist, Student Affairs

Jonathan Stern, senior real estate officer, Capital Programs

Kay Francesca Coelho, school services associate, Diversity & Engagement

Khatira Nawabi, executive assistant, California Digital Library

Sam Davis, quality assurance analyst, ITS

Tuline Baykal, UC CalFresh program manager, ANR

Valerie Marble, legal support specialist, OGC

Veronica Potts, academic personnel policy analyst, APPC

Zina Slaughter, director, UC Student Health Plan


Want to join in? OPPC is sponsoring two more volunteer activities in October. Keep an eye on Link and the OPPC website for future opportunities to help our local community.

Comments ( 2 )

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  1. Amy Vrizuela October 4, 2016 Reply

    You all did such an amazing job!!

  2. Lena Zentall October 4, 2016 Reply

    Bravo! It was wonderful to read about how excited the kids were to see the new brightly painted playground. Go UCOP volunteers!!

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