Philadelphia Union Foundation and partners construct playground in Chester

Volunteers, All-Stars, local groups build for local youth

Playground Build

Photo Credit: 
John Shipley

If you drive past Chester's Science and Discovery High School, you'll see a brand new playground with soccer fields right next door.

It was a project that took just a few hours to finish, but it will give some 500 children in Chester a safe place to play for years to come.

More than 200 people were on hand as the playground was assembled on the Tuesday before the 2012 Major League Soccer All-Star Game at nearby PPL Park.

"We looked at a lot of places in Chester, and we ended up here," said Chester Mayor John Linder. "I went to this school too, so this is my neighborhood. This is my hood. It's really a good thing to see that MLS and the All-Star Game brought this to our city, to our kids. Our kids are appreciating this. [MLS] brought with them a soccer field and a playground, and it doesn't get any better."

"This is the beginning," said Rick Jacobs, who serves as the both the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Union Foundation and as the team's Vice President of Business Development. "This is the beginning of the Philadelphia Union, and our foundation, putting a stake in Chester other than with the team. I mean, the team is awesome. It's our business, and it's what drives Nick and his ownership to be the best every day. But now the foundation, and us coming into the community, and staking a claim to what's right for kids here – that's what this day is all about."

More than a half dozen organizations had a hand in the project. The Philadelphia Union Foundation worked with the city of Chester, the Chester Upland School District, Chester City United, and Major League Soccer. Volunteers from MLS W.O.R.K.S. and the Sons of Ben were joined by representatives from AT&T and KaBoom!, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit group that promotes outdoor activities for children.

"It's amazing. It's amazing what can be accomplished when everybody works together as one unit and works for the kids," explained Dr. Tony Watson, superintendent of the Chester Upland School District. "We're looking out for the future of the kids. It's an excellent project to keep the kids off the street and be in an environment that's safe, and they can get some exercise at the same time. I couldn't ask for anything more; I'm excited about it."

In addition to the numerous groups that played a role in the project, all sorts of familiar faces from MLS were on hand for the festivities. All-Stars Carlos Valdes, Graham Zusi, Osvaldo Alonso, Jay Demerit, Dan Kennedy, Jimmy Nielsen, and Kyle Beckerman signed autographs and spent time with local children. Union players Chase Harrison and Krystian Witkowski took part in the day's events, while MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, and other officials spent part of their day at the playground.

"We can do anything if we don't care who gets the credit," Linder said. "You've got county council out here, Chester city council, state representatives, MLS, AT&T corporate people out here. You've got law enforcement, you've got Chester Upland School District and Dr. Watson. You've got everybody out here participating. What we have to do is embrace this moment, and the vision that we can do anything if we don't care who gets the credit."

Jacobs and Watson talked about the importance of multiple groups coming together to work on one unified project.

"I think that's probably the thing that makes you the proudest," Jacobs said. "There are groups that took a little while to ignite, and once they did, between community, and school, and MLS W.O.R.K.S., and the Philadelphia Union Foundation, and Chester City United, it became really what I think this thing is kind of all about, which is a bunch of different groups coming together for all of the right reasons."

"It's the most important thing that's going on with us right now," said Watson of his district's involvement with the Philadelphia Union Foundation. "We're in desperate need of partnerships, and we've definitely formed a partnership now. I think it's a [big part] of the future, of the survival of the Chester-Upland school district."

The playground itself was designed partly by the local children who will be using it. Last month, neighborhood kids drew crayola designs of what they hoped the playground would look like it. Elements from those drawings were incorporated into the final product.

It was one part of a much larger collaborative effort.

"I think what we've determined that what we want to do -- we're reaching to out to all of the different kinds of organizations in the city," Jacobs explained. "Whether it's churches, community groups, Chester Upland schools, the city: all of those different groups have a voice. What we want to do, any time foundation work is successful, it's because people do more listening than they do talking. So we're going to start listening to what people want, and start going through that, and continue to make a difference where we can."