Partnership to yield new playground

Published 10:29 am Friday, August 4, 2017

The thunder and lightning of a brainstorm that began last year has built up into a shower of generosity that will benefit children in the form of a new playground this fall.

Jenny Dixon, the communications manager for the Franklin Mill of International Paper, explained how the idea got started.

“In the spring of 2016, our team began brainstorming opportunities to publicly commemorate the five-year anniversary of the mill’s startup and the many things this team has accomplished since that time,” said Dixon. “Our goal was to identify a meaningful way to share our gratitude with the community for supporting the mill since operations resumed.”

She continued to say that a $25,000 contribution was obtained from the International Paper Foundation. After which, there was a meeting with Tara Richardson of Dominion Energy. She’s the Senior Community Affairs representative for Corporate Public Relations and Volunteer Programs. That in turn got a matching $25,000 from Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation.

Together they approached the City of Franklin to find a community need, and that was quickly identified as the playground at Armory Park, which is in need of an upgrade.

In addition to getting support from the Franklin Southampton Chamber of Commerce, the Obici Healthcare Foundation and Franklin Southampton Charities have also contributed $25,000 and $16,750.

The project features input from KaBoom!, which is a non-profit organization that specializes in creating or improving playgrounds through the country; the agency has done at least 16,700 playgrounds since 1996. On Wednesday afternoon, Rachel Malkusah, senior project manager from Washington, D.C., was with Dixon, Richardson, City Manager Randy Martin, and representatives from the City such as Parks and Recreation’s Frank Davis, councilman Greg McLemore, and Public Works’ Scott Whisenant, Chad Edwards and Bill Carr, to name a few. They did a walk-through to examine the condition of existing swings and slides, etc.

Malkusah said that following two days of prep work, volunteers will put together the playground in six hours on Thursday, Oct. 5. Although a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned, the swing sets and other equipment won’t be ready for 72 hours. This is to give the stabilizing concrete time to settle and harden.

“I’m excited,” said Richardson, who was accompanied by her sons. “It’s a wonderful gift to the city … to create a place [for children to play] during the day or night games [on the field next door].”

She added that her own boys really like playgrounds as well. At the nearby Children’s Center, they joined in the effort with other youngsters to give their ideas for what the new site should include.

Children attending was asked to draw their dream playground. One used crayons to draw a playhouse with a slide that drops children into a swimming pool. Next to it is a merry-go-round, so they spin-dry.

“The IP Way Forward is how we go beyond just doing the right things, the right ways, for the right reasons — all the time,” said Dixon. “It’s how we create value for International Paper, and all of our stakeholders, for generations to come. The playground project embodies that vision and we can’t wait to get started!

“We are grateful to KaBOOM!, The Children’s Center, Franklin Southampton Economic Development and Franklin Southampton Chamber of Commerce, who are all working with IP and Dominion to bring the park’s design to fruition. In addition to the Foundation gifts from International Paper and Dominion, the project would not be possible without generous grants from the Obici Healthcare Foundation and Franklin Southampton Charities. We have a couple of additional pending requests under review and hope to have good news to share on those soon.”

For more information regarding this community-build project, contact Jenny Dixon at 569-4709 or