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Too cold to play? Not for kids in Fairbanks, Alaska


"It is a happy talent to know how to play." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kids help clean up a local parkFor Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services (FNHS) in Alaska, creating quality play space for children is an important aspect of owning and managing an apartment community. The organization's emphasis on community-building is what motivated it to build new playgrounds at South Vista Haven, a 24-home rental community, and Birch House, a six-unit property for seniors and their visiting grandchildren. FNHS owns and manages more than 80 rental homes.

Nadine Winters, executive director, knew the organization needed the help of volunteers and businesses to build the playgrounds. She reached out to Maggie Calhoun, business director for Corvias—a housing contractor for the U.S. military that has a mission to "pursue the kinds of partnerships and long-term relationships that substantially improve quality of life and bring about more dynamic and resilient communities."

To Winters, the company's community focus couldn't have been more aligned with her own organization's mission. "We would love to partner with Corvias again," she says.

The playground projects took a year to come to fruition, but the wait was well worth it, she adds. "They have been a real benefit to the community and our tenants. They transformed bare spaces into nice areas for kids and parents. They are frequently very busy and strewn with toys and all kinds of playthings."

More than 25 volunteers pitched in to build the two playgrounds, which can be used nearly all year long, even during the long, dark afternoons of winter.

"There are very energy-efficient lights that illuminate the playground in the darker months," explains Winters.  The longest night in Fairbanks lasts about 20 hours in December.

Even in very cold weather, school policy allows Fairbanks kids to play outside, in contrast to their less-hardened counterparts in the lower-48 states. Officials with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District allow outdoor recess for children even if the air temperature is minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit—although even these hardy kids tend to stay indoors when it's that cold.

The playground equipment includes monkey bars, a slide, swings, a sandbox and a clubhouse. The sandbox replaced two planters—an addition inspired when the construction team walked the project and noticed a group of kids playing in the dirt.

FNHS is looking for more partners to help bring kid-friendly improvements to their properties. But for the residents of South Vista and the grandchildren visiting Birch, the job is done.

"The goal was just to make it better for our tenants and their kids," Winters says. "That goal was met. We hear it in the laughter all of the time."

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