Activating Empathy Through Play - Silicon Valley

by Playworks
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Activating Empathy Through Play - Silicon Valley
Activating Empathy Through Play - Silicon Valley
Activating Empathy Through Play - Silicon Valley
Junior Coach
Junior Coach

Playworks’ commitment to safe and healthy play for every kid continues during this time of political transition—and may be needed in some communities now more than ever. Bullying is on the rise across the country, including on playgrounds.

Thankfully, student leaders on our playgrounds take pride in supporting their peers and resolving conflicts respectfully. We are confident that Playworks coaches and school staff trained by Playworks will continue to prevent bullying and exclusion in their schools.

We’re nurturing the values of inclusion, respect, and healthy community in young people who are becoming the engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.

Playworks has been positively impacting school culture for 20 years, and together we’ll continue to create safe places for kids to play. We aim to impact 3.5 million additional youth by 2020.

In response to recent events, Playworks founder and CEO released the following open letter to America's kids: 


Dear Kids of the United States,

It’s been quite a year for us grown-ups in the United States, and it occurs to me that you may be wondering what’s going on. Maybe you’ve noticed many adults in your life having a lot of serious conversations. 

The basic story is we haven’t been doing a great job of communicating well with one another. And we grown-ups have to figure out how to do that better.

As I’ve been thinking about how to do that, I realized there is something really important to share with you.

You, America’s children, are far more powerful and influential than you know.  There are many historical examples of exemplary kids—like Ruby Bridges and Malala—who helped to change the world for the better. And there are also lots of examples of everyday heroics—like when I got my parents to stop smoking when I was 8.  Kids all across our country championed recycling and seat belts before they were popular, defended schoolmates who were being picked on, marched for justice, registered voters and raised huge sums of money for causes they believed in.

In this spirit, I offer three concrete suggestions of things you can do to use your power and influence to help people get along.

#1 Ask Questions. I know some teachers want you to give them the right answers to everything.  In life, though, asking the right questions is way more important. If you are wondering about something you’ve heard—on the news, in class, on the playground—ask a grown-up, like a parent, a teacher, a coach, or a librarian—librarians are the superheroes of question-answering. Just by asking questions, you’re making a difference. Questions make people think, and that’s always a good thing.

#2 Play More. Sounds crazy, but you playing well with other kids actually makes the world a better place. The more you play, the more joy is released into the atmosphere, and the more you and your friends learn to solve problems and work together.

#3 Be Kind. This may seem like it couldn’t possibly be that important, but being kind is the single most important thing you can do to make a difference. This small action has an impact way beyond what you imagine because your kindness not only influences the people you’re being kind to, it also affects people who see you being kind and . . . BONUS, the person who benefits most of all from your kindness is you.

All of the grown-ups at Playworks are 100% committed to ensuring that you and kids everywhere have access to daily, safe, and healthy play.  Beyond that, we want to make sure that schools are kind and respectful places, where learning and joy happen and where you are able to discover your best selves.  

We know you are capable of far more than what grown-ups sometimes believe about you, and that this includes extraordinary leadership. We grown-ups have a lot of work to do to make life in the United States better for everyone, and I, for one, believe we will do a better job if we have your leadership to guide us.

Many thanks for all your help with this. On behalf of the grown-ups, I am so glad you’re here. 

Play on,

Jill Vialet
Playworks Founder & CEO


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Playworks is proud to be recognized for the fifth consecutive year as one of the 2016 Top-Rated Nonprofits by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofits.

The people’s choice award among do-gooders, GreatNonprofits Top-Rated Awards empower volunteers, donors, and peopled served by nonprofits to share their stories and express their gratitude. GreatNonprofits compiles these reviews and gives out annual awards to nonprofits who have significantly inspired and impacted their communities.

At Playworks, we value this dialogue and celebrate the stories of partners and supporters who are joining the play movement, as one partner shared:

The first year we had Playworks at our school . . . we didn’t have our playground installed. Playworks was all we had for recess time. What I witnessed were kids being active, having fun and including others. . . I have seen the benefits of how PLAY does WORK when kids are taught problem solving skills and how to all play together.”

“We are honored to continue to be a part of this diverse community of top-rated organizations,” said Playworks Founder and CEO Jill Vialet. “As we continue to grow to fulfill our 2020 AIM, it is incredibly inspiring to see people sharing stories on GreatNonprofits of how our work touches the lives of our partners and supporters.”

We are humbled by this award and thank everyone whose support made this recognition possible.

Read our reviews and contribute your story!


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We couldn’t be more excited that the new school year is about to begin! Over the summer, we’ve taken some time to reflect on our previous year and wanted to share what we’ve found.

At the end of every school year, teachers and principals at our partner schools take an extensive survey about the impact of the Playworks program. We are so proud of the results here in Silicon Valley!

Some of the highlights of the survey:

  • 96% of administrators, teachers and support staff want Playworks to return next year
  • 97% of staff report Playworks increased the number of students who were active at recess
  • 87% of staff reported a decrease in the number of bullying incidents

It’s back to school time at Playworks, and this year we’re going to be serving more kids than ever, providing more than 52,000 children with a positive and healthy experience at school.

We couldn’t do it without you!


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Julia as a Junior Coach
Julia as a Junior Coach

When Julia transferred to Adelante Spanish Immersion School in Redwood City halfway through second grade, most of the kids had been together since kindergarten. “I didn’t have a ton of friends,” says Julia, “and it was hard adjusting. I wasn’t a super social kid—I was kind of a nerd—and it was a challenge for me to break out of my shell.”

Becoming a Junior Coach helped Julia find her voice. “Before being a Junior Coach, I had been really quiet in school,” she recalls. “Being a Junior Coach helped me be more extroverted. It made me more comfortable with who I was.”  

By high school, Julia was a self-described, “very loud person.” In fact, “My friends in high school called me Loudy. I have a loud voice that carries really well.” As team captain of her high school water polo team, being loud was key: “It is just necessary so your team can hear you. I had to yell a lot!”

For Julia however, finding her voice meant more than just learning to use her lungs. In elementary school, “I was a little bossy, and not the most popular kid,” Julia recalls. “Playworks helped me with a lot of social interaction stuff. Junior Coaches would lead games together, especially big games or games we knew would be super popular. We had to collaborate.”

“Being a junior coach was my first real opportunity to be a leader outside of schoolwork,” Julia says. “It was up to us to schedule what games we wanted to play, to figure out who would work together, and to get together the equipment.”

The teamwork and leadership skills Julia learned as a Junior Coach, even more than her loud voice, made her successful as a water polo team captain. They also prepared her for her future career.

“The younger kids really look to you and see you as a role model,” says Julia, who is now a first year student at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. “I really enjoy working with kids, and that started when I was a Junior Coach.”

Julia continued working with kids and growing as a leader as a camp counselor. Now, she is studying History with a triple minor in Education Studies, Math, and Sociology/Anthropology, and plans to become a history teacher.

“I still have my Junior Coach shirt in my drawer, and my friends and I still talked about it during high school,” she says. “It really sticks with you!”

Julia as a Community Leader
Julia as a Community Leader


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Twenty Years of Play
Twenty Years of Play

Throughout the year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Playworks and with it, 20 years of bringing healthy, safe, and inclusive play to hundreds of thousands of children across the country. Spanning 20 playful years, Playworks has grown to become the nonprofit leader using the power of play to transform children’s social, emotional, and physical health.

In 1996, Playworks Founder and CEO Jill Vialet launched Sports4Kids, now called Playworks, in two Berkeley, CA elementary schools after she met with a school principal who asked for help in reducing the chaos and conflict in the schoolyard during recess. With a multi-million dollar investment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that spanned a decade, as well as a partnership with AmeriCorps, support from our national corporate partners, and donations from thousands of individuals, Playworks has since grown to serve 750,000 children annually in 1,300 elementary schools in nearly every state.

There is one thing we know for certain after 20 years on school playgrounds in communities all across the country: play works for every kid. And we don’t plan to stop any time soon. Now more than ever, every kid deserves the chance to play. Stay tuned—throughout 2016, we’ll be inviting you to help amplify play for every kid across America. Thank you for 20 years of supporting the life-changing power of play!


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Location: Oakland, CA - USA
Project Leader:
O'Brien Patricia
Campbell, CA United States

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