Florida Might Trigger Thoughts of the Beach, But In Tampa, It All Starts in the Park

Girl running while flying kite

Posted May 12, 2011

Marisa Langford is on a mission.

“You don’t need to spend money on expensive things to get kids outside. Utilize parks in urban areas as they were envisioned, as they were supposed to be,” said Langford, a We Can!® site leader and founder of Tampa, Florida’s, Fit Kids Playground, a community site that promotes increased physical activity for children.

Two years ago, Langford launched her first We Can! event and received so much support from the community that she realized two things:

Family posing on playground

1) We Can! is an effective way to energize families
2) Local businesses are ready and eager to support efforts that help children live healthier lifestyles

Since the launch, Langford has established strong partnerships with local organizations including the City of Tampa, REALM, the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Harbor Island Club, and other local businesses to support the program’s park-oriented activities.

Here’s how it works:

On the first Tuesday of every month, Tampa families gather in the park for an afternoon of live music, dancing, and good old-fashioned fun outside. The event is known as “Playin’ in the Park,” has rotated to various parks in Tampa, and includes:

  • jumping rope
  • playing with hula hoops
  • kicking soccer balls
  • distributing We Can! Parent Handbooks and brochures

“Everything comes together with the three We Can! messages; eat right, be more active, and spend less time in front of the screen in order to maintain a healthy weight,” said Langford.

Cooperation between Fit Kids Playground and its local partners also is coming together nicely: For example, the Glazer Children’s Museum offers “$2 Target Tuesdays” to Playin’ in the Park patrons whom Langford directs from the park to the museum. This arrangement benefits both, while encouraging children and their parents to pursue activities that keep the whole family up, outdoors, and away from the screen.

Thanks to a 2011 We Can! Assistance Program award, Langford is now able to promote “Playin’ in the Park” Tuesdays—which are now in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park thanks to a partnership with the City of Tampa—more effectively to a greater number of people, including potential partners who can help keep the event free and open to everyone.

Potential partners, such as healthy food brands, already have been approaching Langford about distributing product samples during the events. She only accepts these offers if the product meshes with the We Can! messages: Langford can afford to be picky since she’s already locked in other local businesses to contribute healthy snacks for the events.

Another way that Fit Kids Playground encourages good nutrition is by asking children who come to the event to sign a simple pledge that reads: “I promise to play, and eat one fruit and one vegetable every day.” Two hundred pledges were collected at the first event.

“I encourage parents to post these pledges on their fridge or bulletin board,” said Langford. “Being a mom, I’ve learned that baby steps are simple but great.”

Thanks to Langford and her team, the Tampa city tagline—“It all starts in the park”— has been realized.

“Maybe we will launch Fit Kids Playground at more parks or new cities,” Langford muses. “I am just one person but am so excited to share what I am doing, what we can do, to make a difference, together.”

Last Updated: February 13, 2013