Heather Feinman, School 2 PTO president (who is holding Avalon Fox, 5, and Arwyn Fox 3), speaks during the May 31, 2017, grand opening of the new Story Walk at the Phillis Wheatley Community Library.

Local author Lisa Johnson (at right) and artist Shawn Dunwoody (at left, holding Aurora Fox, 1) worked with neighborhood children to create a fictional story and painted sidewalk.

Children, families and neighbors gathered May 31 to celebrate the grand opening of Rochester’s first of its kind “Story Walk” at the Phillis Wheatley Community Library.

The highly-visual outdoor literary experience is the latest community-driven initiative promoting a more playable city. The project is a collaboration between the Rochester Public Library and the City of Rochester, as well as the Corn Hill Neighbors Association, artist Shawn Dunwoody, Writers and Books, Southwest Area Neighborhood Association (SWAN), parents and children from the neighborhood, and the Healthi Kids Coalition.

The project was created and designed by children who participated in a program at Phillis Wheatley Community Library. Intertwined with the new community garden, the Story Walk invites kids and families in the neighborhood to play as they read along the way. Each part of the Story Walk is posted at stations along the path surrounding the library. The walk is enhanced by vibrant and playful imagery that was painted on the sidewalks during a community paint day on Saturday, May 27.

Jennelle Sayyeau, 11, plays at the Story Walk at Phillis Wheatley Community Library May 31, 2017. The project was one of 50 winners nationwide in the KaBOOM! "Play Everywhere Challenge."

“The Story Walk design and the story itself are all a product of the children’s vision,” said Dr. Tolley Reeves, assistant director of the Rochester Public Library. “What they created is an exciting opportunity for visitors to learn about our city’s history. The blend of history, literacy and play really resonates with the community, and we’re thrilled to have it as a part of our library.”

From its inception, the Story Walk has been a community-driven concept, resulting from ideas generated during meetings with residents. A local youth advisory council voted on the ideas generated by the community and selected the Story Walk project for submission to the KaBOOM! “Play Everywhere Challenge,” where the project was selected as one of 50 national winners.

The Phillis Wheatley Community Library has active afterschool and weekend programs where families have access to a wide array of resources and classes. By creating interactive games with storybook themes along the sidewalk, and having book pages mounted around the library, families and kids can walk through their favorite story while also being active and having fun.

“This library is a fixture in our neighborhood, and I’m thrilled that my children and I were able to help paint the sidewalks and help bring the Story Walk to life,” said Heather Feinman, School 2 PTO President.

These are panels from the new Story Walk at the Phillis Wheatley Community Library, which opened May 31, 2017. The fictional story weaves in elements of local history and the painted playful sidewalk illustrates elements from the story.

The content of the story includes characters based on Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American woman and first published African-American poet; well-known Rochester historical figures Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony; and Dr. David Anderson, a founding and current member of the Black Storytelling League of Rochester and Akwaaba: The Heritage Associates. To help guide the creative process, the children worked with artist Shawn Dunwoody and author Lisa Johnson from Writers and Books.

In addition to funding from the KaBOOM! challenge, the Corn Hill Neighborhood Association provided funds to bring the project to life. The library has plans to update the Story Walk with new stories throughout the year.

“We are fortunate to be part of this collaborative effort towards realizing a vision for – and by – our community to bring everyday play back to the lives of our children in the City of Rochester,” said Dina Faticone, Healthi Kids Director. “Play contributes to healthy brain development, strong muscles and is pivotal to how kids learn problem solving, conflict resolution, and creativity – in other words, the skills they need to succeed as adults. The project could not have been completed without the support of the community.”

The Story Walk is a part of the Healthi Kids Coalition’s “Play ROCs” campaign, which aims to build a culture of play in Rochester by advocating for safer, more accessible places to play at schools and in our neighborhoods. Working alongside community champions including local nonprofits, community leaders, parents, and youth, Healthi Kids brainstormed more than 250 ideas and collected community input to identify the top five ideas for submission to the challenge.

To learn more about Healthi Kids Play ROC’s ideas for making play happen everywhere in Rochester, visit www.playrocs.org. To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge, and view a gallery of winning ideas from cities across the US, please visit http://kaboom.org/playeverywhere.