WALTHAM, Mass. - Many New England Patriots players traded helmets and pads for shovels and wheel barrels Tuesday to help build a playground for children in Waltham and launch the organization's 2013 Celebrate Volunteerism initiative. Players from the Patriots and New England Revolution joined more than 250 volunteers from UnitedHealthcare, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, the New England Revolution Charitable Foundation, KaBOOM!, Bentley University, Brandeis University and the Waltham Housing Authority to build a new playground in the Prospect Hill Terrace housing development and bring smiles to the many families within that community.
"I was one of those kids that grew up in a single-family home in the projects, so I know what these kids are missing and what can make them happy," said former New England Patriots running back Patrick Pass, who participated in Tuesday's build. "The fact that these kids get to see professional athletes here puts a smile on their faces and I love seeing that."
Over the summer, Pass attended the project's Design Day, which gave children the opportunity to create the perfect playground for their community. On Tuesday, volunteers brought those drawings to life in just over six hours of work.
"It's a great thing when you get to see something that comes together that kids picked out," said Pass. "This was one of those things that I could not miss because I was there for the Design Day and I knew what each kid wanted. I hope this playground brings a lot of kids together and teaches them how to play together as a team in their community and learn how to get along with another."
Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, who has participated in a community playground build through the organization's Celebrate Volunteerism initiative every year since joining the team in 2011, called the project an "amazing experience."
"It's great that [the community has] this central place where everyone can come together," Solder said of the newly installed playground. "Families can congregate around it and kids can have a lot of fun."
The playground will provide more than 177 children with a safe place to play and replaces a small, poorly located playground with old equipment. The new playground features a large, bright green twist slide, a swing set, benches, picnic tables, flower beds, a mural and much more for families to enjoy.
"It's really amazing to see this come together," said Gabe Rivas, 23, an employee volunteer from UnitedHealthcare. "Seeing some of the Patriots and the Revolution players here, as well as the mascots, was a good time and it was great to see they all care about helping communities like this."
KaBOOM! and United Healthcare, through its "Do Good. Live Well." employee-volunteer initiative, aim to help prevent childhood obesity through playground builds like this across the country. The playground at Prospect Hill Terrace was one of three built by UnitedHealthcare Tuesday and the 15,414 playground built, opened or improved by KaBOOM! since the nonprofit's inception in 1996.
"It is so cool to see kids show up on this playground that was a bare piece of ground and six hours later has completely transformed," said Jack Larsen, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, Medicare and Retirement.
Aaron Pinet, 21, of Bentley University, said volunteering in this project through the university's Service Learning Center has been "incredibly rewarding" and he was thrilled to see players from the Patriots and Revolution lending a hand Tuesday.
"It was awesome," Pinet said of the Patriots' visit. "I've been a New England Patriots fan for as long as I can remember and just having them come out here and give up their time was really incredible."
Pinet's classmate, C.J. Forcino, 21, agrees.
"How cool is that? I was putting in concrete with one of the Patriots players," Forcino said. "They love helping the community just like we do and they are so involved in giving back and making a difference.
Having them here actually motivated me a little more to give back because seeing them work so hard inspired me to work harder."
That inspiration helped bring a community a brand new playground Tuesday that will provide children the opportunity to be active and play outside in a positive environment every single day.