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This Nonprofit Is Changing Communities Through Play

A local group is rethinking Denver's urban spaces with one intention: play. 

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It’s easy to talk about doing good or being good in the New Year. What if you actually did it? That’s one of the questions posed in this month’s 5280, where we write about a new nonprofit, PLAY Denver, as an option to fulfill your resolution to be nicer.

The group, which was formed by some North High School students, deserves a little more fanfare than we could fit on the printed page. What started as a seven-week competition with other Denver Public Schools to address social awareness (food deserts, mental health, and more) has transformed into an award-winning project and a nonprofit that will survive well beyond graduation.

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Last year, PLAY Denver’s founders tackled the concept of bringing “play” to impoverished youth by using existing spaces. But how to do that? The group tossed around ideas about supplying bikes to youth, but that was out of their budget. They kept at the problem by quizzing people in Denver’s Quigg Newton Homes, a nearby subsidized housing area in North Denver, about what they needed. “We found out that a lot of kids had their bikes stolen or couldn’t afford bikes,” says PLAY Denver’s Tatum Lira. “Kids who had bikes didn’t have anywhere to ride them.”

(How to keep those New Year’s resolutions)

Armed with that information, the group set out to establish the North Side bike route, much of which would parallel existing train tracks. The trouble was that the area was trashed, so the group pulled on gloves, gave up weekends, and started cleaning. “We picked up more than 100 bags of trash,” Siany Anufrijevas says. Even before the work was done, local kids were racing bikes up and down the path.

PLAY Denver also started a bike share program with a local rec center so that kids without bikes could get out and, you guessed it, play. The group’s efforts won the local competition and they presented their work at the Aspen Ideas Festival (one of the members took a selfie with Hillary Clinton).

Now, the group has turned their attention to bus stops and low-income families who rely on public transportation. Specifically, they hope to turn ho-hum stops into areas where children can play while waiting (think: tic-tac-toe games). The goal? “To have those moments of joy in something they have to do every day,” Lira says. “So that they can be children in this world that doesn’t really allow them to be children.”

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Want to Help? Visit PLAY Denver’s webpage for information on donating bikes, volunteering for a clean-up crew, or how to start a local chapter near you.

Follow senior editor Natasha Gardner on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Natasha Gardner, Articles Editor

Natasha Gardner writes and edits longform journalism and multimedia projects for 5280 and is a regular columnist for 5280.com.

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