Community Service: Teens Make Great Play Advocates

Teens offer energy, creativity and resourcefulness to community play activities

Posted Jan 03, 2016

*Author is Pat Rumbaugh, The Play Lady

Teens have helped with community play activities from the beginning. They have so much to offer; they are energetic, young children look up to them, adults enjoy seeing them being active and helpful and they are creative, resourceful and playful.

Jacob was one of my students in 2009 when I was still teaching at Washington International School. I approached him because he gave me the impression he loved to play and he lived in Takoma Park, Maryland where I live. Our newly formed play committee needed to map all our playgrounds in Takoma Park and share them with the nonprofit KaBOOM! because we were applying to be named A Playful City USA.

Jacob didn’t even hesitate when he answered me, “Mrs. Rumbaugh I would like to help you map the playgrounds. When should we start?” Shortly after that conversation one Saturday afternoon Jacob and I spent hours going from playground to playground. Jacob snapped photos and we wrote down all the equipment that was at each playground. After that Jacob was on his own: he submitted a list of all the equipment, the shape it was in and two photographs of each playground. This was no small task.

Later that school year Jacob received a Community Service Award at Washington International School and from KaBOOM! You can see how Jacob is a great play advocate. Jacob continued to help us at play events.

Claire Koenig and other teens helped us at our first play day. See the previous post, Pushing Play that Claire wrote in 2009.

As we gathered momentum more teens wanted to be involved. My wonderful neighbor, Lucia Campos said yes to be the Teen Coordinator of our 2010 Play Day. Lucia made announcements at school and helped us get 50 teens to volunteer on that day.

Late June 2011 I invited church members and people attending church that day to attend our 3rd Annual Picnic, Play and Parade Watch event in my front yard. I also shared teens could receive community service hours for helping us. So shortly after my announcement a lovely teen named Eunice came up to me and said, “Hi, I am Eunice and I would love to help.”

The morning of the Parade Eunice showed up bright and early to help with set-up. Many of the super seniors that attended the event were thrilled with Eunice; she got them their food and drinks, was friendly and polite. She also played with the children and was so helpful with cleanup.

Eunice became our star teen. She brought her wonderful older sister, Susan, to our 3rd Annual Playful Yard Sale. They were both so good at organizing and selling the items.

Both girls helped us with play events that summer of 2010; Dress-up at Spring Park, Playing with Chalk at Forest Park and Playing with Dinosaurs at Heffner Playground.

Eunice tallied over 120 hours her freshman year, which exceeded her high school requirement. I told Eunice we understood if she wanted to stop, but that we all loved her and hoped she would continue. I said, “Who knows Eunice something special may happen if you keep helping us.” Plus she was a great role model for other teens.

Eunice and Susan are both in a documentary that was made in spring of 2012. See the link below.

Spring 2015 I was in church when Eunice came up to me to share her latest good news. Eunice had been going through multiple interviews and just found out she received a full scholarship to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I started crying and could not stop hugging Eunice I was so happy for her. When I finally dried my eyes Eunice said to me, “Pat I owe this all to you.” I replied, “Eunice, you did all the work, put in the time and you helped so many people play.”

In 2014, the head of community service for Montgomery County Maryland named our 6th Annual Play Day a featured community service event. This ended up bringing over 70 teens from all around the county. We get teens from private and public schools, boys, girls of all different backgrounds. Some love to face paint, while others want to help with playing with boxes.

Tips for involving teens that want to volunteer with play

  • Help them receive community service credit hours--this is especially attractive because it involves doing something they enjoy and feel is worthwhile.
  • Include a wide selection of play activities, including those the teens suggest.
  • Let teens choose where they can offer their talents works best.
  • Encourage teens to invite their family, friends, scout troop, team and others.
  • Be flexible with their volunteer time, a minimum of two hours and/or all day if they choose.
  • Provide refreshments and T-shirts.
  • Encourage teens to play as much as they wish.
  • Invite teens to organize their OWN play events; play days, close a street to play, form a play club at school and/or start a weekly games night.

In 2015 several teens saved us by stepping up to the plate or should I say microphone; Lyla (Colleen’s Granddaughter) and good friend Jace sang at our 2nd Annual Adult Play Day and our 6th Annual Play Day. They were terrific!

A couple of teens have interned with me this year; Nico (Colleen’s Grandson) helped create a Play Questionnaire for 2015. He added all the results on the computer, so I can use this information when applying for Grants. Nico also helped with play events, including on March 28 when we closed a street to play Nico played mini tennis in the street with Grandma Colleen, 88 years young. Nico you were a huge help.

This summer Alison joined me as an intern. She started tabulating all the information from the questionnaires. She also

Shocked me when I told her we needed to have the NBC4 videos edited Alison told me she could do it. You can see them on our website under press. Alison is a joy to work and play with.

Teens make great play advocates. I dream of the day there will be Let’s Play America Clubs in every school in America; their goals will be to play, promote play in the community and be inclusive to everyone. So teens if you love to play think of ways you can play and promote play where you live. Go play!


1 The Play Lady Tells Us How to Become Play-ers

2 How to Start a Play Committee in Your Community

3 How to Plan a Play Day in Your Community

4 Pushing Play in the Community

5 Why Close a Street to Play?

6 Join an Already Planned Community Event and Promote Play

7 Inter-generational Games Night

8 Community Service: Teens Make Great Play Advocates

9 Start a Play Club in Your School

10 The Benefits of Play Events in Your Community


Watch one of the two TEDxTalks Pat gave on play.

Pat is the Co-founder of the nonprofit Let’s Play America. Like us on Facebook Let’s Play America.

Email The Play Lady to invite her to your community