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Social Capitalists: Profile

Social Capitalists

By Fiona Haley


Washington, DC

Founded: 1995
Field: Youth/Community
Budget: $5.6 million

In inner cities, kids will play wherever they can: on the street, in the hallways of their apartment buildings, or -- in cities lucky enough to have worked with KaBOOM! -- they can play in safe and clean playgrounds that neighborhood residents designed together.

  • Entrepreneurship: A-
  • Innovation: B+
  • Social Impact: A-
  • Aspiration: A-
  • Sustainability: B

Darell Hammond, KaBOOM!'s cofounder and CEO of play, says he knew from early on that he was meant to do good. As a child, he and his seven brothers and sisters were sent to an orphanage, where he lived for 14 years. Because of his appreciation for the social workers who raised him, he felt obligated to help others.

He cofounded KaBOOM! to do just that. When he noticed that inner-city kids had no space to play, the answer was obvious: Give them a place. KaBOOM! works in low-income neighborhoods to create community spaces for children and adults. Inner-city neighborhoods are usually the last places to have safe spaces for play -- but they are the ones who need them the most. Hammond says the ability to play is a right, not just a privilege, and he wants to make that right universal. "Our vision is to help create a society that cares for children through the demonstration around play," he explains.

While KaBOOM! began with the goal of giving kids somewhere safe to play, it also has a second, more widespread objective: to bring neighborhoods together. The process of building the park begins with a design day, when children help create their dream playground by discussing their favorite colors, animals, and places to play. Designers consider the needs of everyone in the community, adding water fountains, benches, and shady places. After the park is designed, people from the neighborhood spend four months planning construction with the backing of corporate sponsors like The Home Depot. Then, in just one day, the neighborhood comes together with volunteers from the corporate sponsor to build the park. In the end, the community has worked together to build a multigenerational space that they can all appreciate. Many of the parks add to community spirit with individualized touches such as murals and hand-tiled walls with the volunteers' handprints in them.

"We started out thinking that play was important and that organizations would fuel the work," Hammond says. "People told us play was a luxury in communities -- how could we fund play? They told us taxpayer dollars should fund recreation. We are making the impossible possible."

So far, KaBOOM! has completed 576 playgrounds, six skate parks, and 1,300 neighborhood restoration and park cleanup projects in 44 states. In eight years, the program has earned $30 million, with a 98% earned income. Donors have an 84% retention rate, with many returning again and again to work with KaBOOM!.

"I hope my organization will not be around in 10 years, because at a national, state, and community level, we will have evolved into a society that cares about children and the need for play," Hammond says.


Darell Hammond, Cofounder and chief executive of play

Darell Hammond cofounded KaBoom! in 1995. Hammond says that as a child on the playground, he was a rock thrower and climber, as well as a Boy Scout with a knack for community service, outdoor fun, and old-fashioned leadership. Hammond is a board member of the Independent Sector, a consortium of the nation's leading nonprofit organizations. Hammond is married, a popular speaker at conferences and universities, and a nationally certified playground installer.

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