- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Thursday night, the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” will feature the District-

based national nonprofit Kaboom.

“Kaboom is grateful to anyone who can spread the word,” said Alison Risso, director of communications for Kaboom, whose mission it is to create play spaces in communities. “We hope people see this episode and go to our Web site (www.kaboom.org) to find out how they can get involved. On our Web site, visitors can plan projects of their own, organize volunteers, fundraise and connect with others who’ve already built playgrounds.”

On Sept. 10, the Entertainment Industry Foundation - created in 1942 to coordinate the charitable donations of movie and studio employees - launched its iParticipate initiative in Times Square in New York. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, attended, along with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent; 15 other mayors; and celebrities such as actor Ashton Kutcher and producer Tyler Perry.

The multiyear iParticipate campaign enlists the entertainment industry in actively promoting service opportunities. The weeklong television event that commenced Tuesday and runs until next Tuesday, features more than 60 national TV programs with volunteerism-infused storylines on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, along with BET, the Disney Channel, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon and other cable networks.

“This week is part of a broader movement to make volunteering a cool thing to do. The goal is to use the power of popular culture to persuade more people to volunteer to help solve the country’s problems,” said Suzanne Perry, senior editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“The District is committed to creating greater service opportunities through the city’s Cabinet-level agency, Serve DC, in an effort to strengthen and promote the spirit of service through volunteerism,” said Mr. Fenty.

Since 1995, Kaboom has led more than 1,700 all-volunteer, done-in-a-day playground, skate parks, sports fields and ice rinks builds in low-income neighborhoods across North America.

“Parks and Recreation,” a mocumentary set in fictional Pawnee, Ind., follows the day-to-day struggles of Leslie Knope (“Saturday Night Live” veteran Amy Poehler). Knope is a well-meaning midlevel bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department. Her attempts to turn an abandoned construction pit into a community park are endlessly foiled by red tape, lawsuits and other civil servant headaches.

Ms. Knope and her friends travel to the fictional town of Eagleton to attend a Kaboom playground build. After constructing a whole playground in just a day, she becomes inspired and energized.

Three real Kaboom project managers were on-site to ensure construction went smoothly, but the show hired comedian Paul Scheer to portray the super-energetic Kaboom Project Manager Keef Slertner, the guy who gets the crowd excited and revved-up to build the playgrounds.

Ms. Perry, the Chronicles of Philanthropy editor, said the nonprofit field’s enthusiasm about iParticipate is tempered by practical concerns that a wave of volunteers will overwhelm the organizations they seek to help.

The rate of regular volunteerism has not increased in 40 years and has generally remained about 26 percent of all Americans, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In August, the National Conference on Citizenship released a study that found 72 percent of Americans said they were cutting back on volunteering and other civic activities. Another survey released in April by Deloitte LLP, a consulting firm, found more than a third of charities do not have the infrastructure to effectively deploy volunteers. Fifty-seven percent could not make good use of a new influx of volunteers, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

John Muller is a freelance writer and photographer living in Montgomery County.

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