When you’re still under five feet tall and need help remembering to brush your teeth, the idea of helping others, much less making a difference in the world, must be pretty daunting.
But that didn’t stop the kids involved in the TVOKids’ show GIVER from picking up hammers and saws to help build new playgrounds in their communities.
“Kids can and do make a difference,” says Pat Ellingson, creative head of TVOKids, who co-produced the 13-episode series with Sinking Ship Entertainment. “There are times we don’t give them enough credit for their ability to think about ‘the big picture.’ We underestimate their creative and strategic thinking abilities.”
The show features groups of six children, aged 6-11, teaming up with community volunteers to design and then actually build needed playgrounds in their communities all across Ontario.
“We really were a catalyst for a lot of community action,” says Blair Powers, one of the show creators and producers at Sinking Ship Entertainment. “It was quite a remarkable process to watch.”
The show features the design and building process of 13 different playgrounds, including one on the First Nations reserve of the Chippewas of Georgina Island, a playground in one Hamilton community where the closest park was a 25-minute walk away and another for Newmarket Child Services, which had only an unused parking lot for children in its care to play in.
In Niagara Falls, Mayor Jim Diodati got right behind plans to build a new playground after a little girl wrote to him to say her playground was full of needles used for drugs and graffiti and she asked for his help.
“Playing at a local park is essential to a child's evolution,” Diodati says. “We are thrilled that the residents in the area are now able to enjoy their cool, new and safe playground. With the Crimson Park revitalization, our community becomes stronger, and our City, a safer place.”
“We had about 50 volunteers show up each day,” says J.J. Johnson, a co-producer and creator of the show with Sinking Ship. “They worked from morning to night to bring the kid’s design plans to life. In Hawkesville, two businesses lent us their carpenters for 3 days. With their expertise we were able to build Canada’s largest sandbox. This show would be absolutely nothing without these people’s generosity.”
“We’ve tested some of the episodes and the feedback we get is that kid viewers go and start drawing plans for what they would like to do to their local playground,” Johnson says. “We hope to facilitate that initiative with a website that gives concrete examples of how to modify your local playground, whether it be a large or small scale project.”
“My favourite part of filming was doing the final Day 3 interviews with the kids... Invariably each would say that they feel like they can do anything now and that they were proud that they helped their community,” he says. “One little girl wished that she could do GIVER every day.”
Lauren Dixon, an eight-year-old who helped build a dog park in Fergus Ontario, says she learned a lot from working on the park. “I learned that when we work together to build something it feels good and you feel good about yourself when you see the finished product.”
Her sister, McCaiden, agrees. "From being on GIVER I learned that you can make a difference in your community no matter what your age, shape or size.”
TVOKids wanted a show that highlighted how important it is for everyone to take part in the community, Ellingson says. “The cover of this series is about building playgrounds but the inside is about giving back to your community, helping others and the power of a team,” she says.
GIVER, which is targeted at a six to nine-year-old demographic, will air over 13 weeks starting April 17 in the TVOKids afternoon block.
The GIVER producers have put together a tipsheet for parents looking for ways to spruce up their own community playgrounds on a budget.