Play is vital to shaping happy, healthy kids. Unfortunately, not all children in the City of Rochester are able to enjoy the benefits of play due to crime and traffic safety concerns. During its 4thannual PlayROCs Your Neighborhood event on July 13, 2019, Healthi Kids teamed up with 55 neighborhood partners to repurpose, reclaim and restore play to public spaces.

Activated and managed by volunteers from each participating neighborhood, PlayROCs Your Neighborhood provides children with convenient and fun places to play. Its aim is to raise awareness about the importance of safe and accessible play spaces for every child in every neighborhood.

Healthi Kids and its partners are encouraged children, families and other residents to join them at any of the more than 40 pop-up locations across the city. Activities at each location include bike rodeos, jump ropes, kickball, water balloons, chalk, bubbles and more. Some locations even offer face painting, air brush tattoos and obstacle courses to maximize the fun.

“Being a part of this event is a highlight for me every year,” says Lydia Rivera Warr, Edgerton Neighborhood Association. “Nothing beats watching the kids laugh, smile and run around carefree. Our kids deserve to feel that freedom every day, and that’s why it’s important to come together as a community to make sure we can provide a sense of safety and security for our children.”

The number of pop-up locations continues to grow each year since the inaugural event in 2016 – from 12 in 2016, to 20 in 2017, to 32 in 2018. This year, the City of Rochester proclaimed July 13 “PlayROCs Your Neighborhood Day” and sponsored the event. All city recreation centers and libraries that are open on Saturdays participated.

“Each year, we see this amazing energy come from both kids and adults,” said Joe Di Fiore, youth and family engagement specialist for Healthi Kids. “The momentum created during the day often moves people to submit letters to City Council or meet with elected officials to advocate for safe and accessible play spaces. The growth of this event is a testament to the dedication of community members and their desire to promote change and advance opportunities for play in our neighborhoods.”

More Work Remains to Make Play Safe and Accessible

Common Ground Health, the parent organization of Healthi Kids, recently surveyed adults in the nine-county Finger Lakes region to better understand how they perceive their health and their health care access.

Overall, the newly released My Health Story survey data found the most important health problems and concerns we should focus on for our children are: mental/emotional health, obesity and physical activity. Among City of Rochester respondents, only 25.5 percent believe their neighborhood is great for children to play outdoors, compared to 64.3 percent in the suburbs. Only 45.6 percent of City of Rochester respondents feel safe in their neighborhoods, compared to 77.5 percent in the suburbs.

“Our data shows that while we have made great strides in reclaiming our neighborhoods, we still need to advocate for policy, systems and environmental changes that put kids and families first,” says advocacy manager Jenn Beideman for Healthi Kids. “Every child has the right to live in a neighborhood where they can safely play, learn and grow. By supporting play in our neighborhoods, we are providing children with the benefits of play and improving their mental, physical, social and emotional health.”