RICHMOND -- About two dozen volunteers needed just a few hours under the afternoon sun to transform a drab stretch of asphalt into a colorful play area for students at Grant Elementary School in Richmond.

"There is no color out here, and kids gravitate toward color, so adding a little makes a huge difference," said Benjamin Stein, program director of the Playworks Northern California-San Francisco office.

Volunteers from Playworks, a nonprofit that works to increase play areas in schools, and medical insurance provider UnitedHealthcare gathered at the Iron Triangle school Thursday and splashed color on the school's asphalt recess area, using bright paints to draw game boundaries, a soccer field and a multipurpose four-square.

Katie Blair, near, an account executive with UnitedHealthcare, works with other volunteers on a new playground design at Grant Elementary School in
Katie Blair, near, an account executive with UnitedHealthcare, works with other volunteers on a new playground design at Grant Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. UnitedHealthcare teamed with Playworks to help fix up the playground. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

Along with the free labor, UnitedHealthcare chipped in $5,000 for the paints and other materials.

Steve Cain, vice president of UnitedHealthcare's California branch, said the public service partnership with Playworks aims to increase student activity in Richmond, where more than 50 percent of children are clinically obese.

"Getting kids active early helps them have a healthy life, and we have to give them a place to be active," Cain said.

The improved play area gives Grant's nearly 600 students a more organized and aesthetically appealing play area by sectioning off areas of the blacktop and providing more functional use of the space. Teachers and volunteers say they hope the vibrant colors distract the students from the lack of grass fields on school grounds.


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Playworks has partnered with 14 schools in West Contra Costa County, providing coaches at each location to improve recess recreation opportunities.

Third-grade teacher Dan MacDonald said he was happy to see improvement in the recess area but hopes it won't stop there.

"The lack of greenery out there is horrible, but the school's gotten a grant for a garden and the principal plans to get some picnic tables," MacDonald said.

This article was produced by RichmondConfidential.org, a nonprofit news service based in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.