Sometimes you have great days, and sometimes you have GREAT days. April 22, 2006, was one of those.
That’s the day I spent with about 150 other Home Depot associates building a playground at War Memorial Park in Pass Christian, MS, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It was part of a larger effort by KaBOOM!, called Operation Playground, which was designed to help rebuild childhoods in the wake of the disaster. In the last 10 years, KaBOOM! has built 196 playspaces on the Gulf Coast, and from 2006 to 2010 The Home Depot fully funded or contributed funding to 36 of those projects.
Technically, the first playground build funded by The Home Depot was at Hancock North Central Elementary School in Kiln, MS, in January 2006 – roughly five months after Katrina struck. Planned quickly, that build was attended by then First Lady Laura Bush.
The second project was the one I was fortunate enough to attend, along with nearly 300 community volunteers, half of whom were associates from The Home Depot. Because that park serves as the community’s central gathering place, the project is widely regarded as a key turning point in Pass Christian’s recovery. The day before the build, I was among a number of CEOs who rode to Mississippi on a bus to view the devastation and talk with legislative leaders such as then-Gov. Haley Barbour and Carlos Gutierrez, who was the Bush administration’s Secretary of Commerce. The next day, we got to work. And believe me, we WORKED!
I grew up around tools, but it had been awhile since I’d worked with post hole diggers, saws and hammers, and I can tell you that it’s not like riding a bike. Yes, the skills come back, but not without a few bumps, bruises and very sore muscles along the way. And it was all worth it.
I’ll never forget the wide-eyed children watching us that day. These were youngsters who had nowhere to play – not since Katrina struck Mississippi at the end of August. These were families whose lives had been upended, many still living in government trailers. The children hovered, constantly asking for ways they could help as this devastated area was transformed into a magical world. We cleaned up the debris, moved heaps of mulch, mixed loads of cement, dug holes, and put together the play apparatus. The children crafted decorative mosaic stones from pieces of broken china and pottery that volunteers found throughout neighborhood yards. It was incredibly powerful watching them create something so beautiful and meaningful.
This was the true essence of The Home Depot philosophy of “You Can Build It. We Can Help.” The Home Depot associates love to build things, and to volunteer. And KaBOOM! is a fantastic organization to work with, involving the community in its projects, even including the playground design. The well-organized staff provides oversight and direction, and volunteers do the actual construction.
“Play is critical to help children heal following a disaster, as they deal with the stress of lost homes, lost loved ones, lost routine and lost normalcy,” the KaBOOM! website explains. “Play is an important part of rebuilding childhoods, which is why KaBOOM! established an internal Disaster Relief and Crisis Recovery Task Force and a roadmap to respond when there are natural or manmade disasters that have an impact on children.”
This wasn’t our only KaBOOM! project at The Home Depot; we did numerous other builds across the country, and in Mexico and Canada. Another I remember distinctly included working at a high school in Chicago, where we also painted halls and then provided outfits for the children so they could interview for jobs. In Washington, D.C. – working alongside the White House staff, legislative leaders and members of the Washington Redskins football team – we cleaned up a park, finding used needles amongst the debris there. I continued to partner with KaBOOM! at Chrysler, working with our dealer network across the country. All of these projects had one thing in common: the children, who needed some normalcy, and their parents, who needed some hope.
If you’d like to know more about KaBOOM!, check out kaboom.org. You can donate, volunteer your time, or suggest a project.
It may be your best work day ever!
Read more about Bob Nardelli at www.bobnardelli.com.
Bob Nardelli has more than 100,000 followers on LinkedIn. During his 45 years in the business world, he has grown the sales and profits of a number of multi-national corporations including the General Electric Co. and The Home Depot, and he helped save Chrysler and its iconic brands when the American auto industry began to collapse. In addition to his board and volunteer service, Bob is the founder of XLR-8, LLC, Investment & Advisory Co., which helps companies identify weaknesses and improve performance.