Let’s Play: King County Coalition Comes Together to Get Youth Outside
King County Play Equity Coalition is a network of organizations dedicated to making changes that make it easier for young people in all communities to move their bodies outside — and to get all of the benefits that come with play.
By Krista Dooley
Research shows outdoor experiences in childhood can have positive impacts on kids’ health and wellness later in life. WTA believes it is vitally important for everyone to have the opportunity to access the outdoors, and we are committed to reducing barriers to time outside. We also know this work cannot be done alone. This is one reason WTA joined the King County Play Equity Coalition in 2020.
King County Play Equity Coalition is a network of organizations dedicated to making changes that make it easier for young people in all communities to move their bodies outside — and to get all of the benefits that come with play. Because physical activity comes in many different forms, it needs to be a collective responsibility. The coalition is building connections and trust among a wide variety of groups who all aim to help young people play and be active. Those connections allow for more work that benefits everyone.
Earlier this year, Seattle—King County was selected as a new Thrive Outside Community by The Outdoor Foundation. This means that community-led organizations like King County Play Equity Coalition will get funding for 3 years to help kids — especially those in diverse communities who often have less access to safe outdoor spaces — to enjoy positive time outside.
We connected with Bookie Gates, leadership team chair, and Adrienne Moore, staff member, at King County Play Equity Coalition to learn more about the coalition’s work and how this funding will support its goals.
Q: Why is this work important?
A: The simple fact is that kids in King County aren’t getting enough movement. And youth of color, girls, immigrant youth and youth with disabilities move even less. It’s a massive equity issue that has significant effects for public health and education but isn’t always included in the larger health, wellness and education conversation.
We think movement has a huge role to play in addressing some of the most pressing issues young people are facing in King County. We also see that the young people who could benefit the most from being active, being on a team, and building positive relationships with peers and caring adults are the most likely to be left out when creating solutions.
Q: Why is the coalition’s approach innovative?
A: Typically, youth sports, play and outdoor programs operate completely separately, despite working in the same area, facing the same systemic issues and often serving the same kids. The Coalition is innovative in that we include all groups working on physical activity and equity. We aren’t focused on a single sport. We’re focused on being the connective tissue between grassroots programs, public agencies, companies and professional sports teams in King County to address systemic issues that can’t be solved by any single organization.
Q: What have been some examples of impact since the coalition launched in 2020?
A: One program focused on (creating) partnerships that addressed play equity gaps and centered the work of member organizations serving BIPOC and other disenfranchised youth. Up to $10,000 was available per collaboration. Three different partnerships came out of this effort, which encouraged creative solutions to COVID-related physical activity losses. For example, The Nature Project and Rainier Athletes partnered on a project to connect 30 BIPOC youth with outdoor programming through curriculum creation, transportation access and mentorship.
Q: What does it mean to receive this multi-year grant?
A: Outdoor education programs in King County are amazing. Often they’re leaders, even nationally, when it comes to innovation and thinking about getting more kids outside. This grant will enable us to bring those folks together and harness that collective wisdom to focus on what we can do together, here, to make King County an even more equitable place for young people to access nature and recreate outside safely.
We also think there’s a cool opportunity to engage more traditional sports and urban-based organizations in this effort at some point and really create a pathway from the backyard to the backcountry. We know that if kids go play outside at nearby parks, they are more likely to be comfortable going farther afield into non-urban-based nature. We’re hoping to focus on this pathway, working on parks access and then opportunities for greater outdoor experiences from there.
Learn more about King County Play Equity Coalition at kcplayequity.org.