The city of Covington, the Covington Chamber of Commerce and the Kent School District have partnered to encourage a program called “Play Unplugged” to get kids out and active.
The program is free and open to all kids in the Covington area. According to Regan Bolli, Covington City Manager, it is the only city in the entire state of Washington that offers this program.
Play Unplugged involves local businesses, parents and their kids.
“Businesses have to the opportunity to sponsor a ‘brag badge.’ Each brag badge has an associated activity, like hiking, baking cookies, wearing your seatbelt, playing basketball — there’s 200 different activities they can do,” Bolli said. “We go to the schools and share all this information with (the kids) and MultiCare sponsors lanyards. We hand out the lanyards to each elementary school in Covington and then the kids go online to www.weplayunplugged.com, and look up Covington. Then they can see each business that sponsors a brag badge, and there they can see what activity to do to earn that brag badge. They go do that activity and then go into the business to get and collect their badge.”
The program got started in Covington about three years ago, Bolli said.
“It was a program that I was familiar with that started in Utah. It was something that I presented to the Covington Economic Council and we kind of got it going that way,” he explained.
Bolli said if the kids collect all the brag badges they get a three month free membership to the Covington Aquatic Center.
So far this year, Bolli said about 200 kids have come through and participated in the program. He said last year there were about 600 kids that participated.
To get the word out about Play Unplugged, Bolli said people from the city, the school district and/or from the Chamber, go to the schools’ end of the year assemblies and give a presentation about what the program.
While the goal is to get kids out and about in the city, Bolli said there is another beneficial aspect to it as well.
“It’s multi-pronged. One of them is to get the kids active throughout the summer and give families some fun activities to do. Another purpose is to increase foot traffic in our local businesses,” Bolli said. “That’s a huge benefit and businesses that have participated have really loved that and they see their summer foot traffic increase as they participate in Play Unplugged.”
So far, this multi-pronged program has been successful in both areas.
Vanessa Keenan, a local mother of three and babysitter of three, and her family, have been participating in Play Unplugged since it first started in the city.
“(For) our first summer, it was just something to do. I babysit kids during the summer and it sounded like a fun program,” Keenan said. “It got us out and about Covington and got into some local businesses that I had never been to. I actually found our current eye doctor, our dentist, a local shoe store that I didn’t even know was there, and now I’ve got back and gotten tons of shoes from them because they’re awesome. It’s kind of a way to get out.”
Last year, when the Covington Aquatics Center started offering the free three-month membership, Keenan said that made it that much more enjoyable and worth doing.
“I was like, ‘Heck yes!,’ (I) made sure all of my kids did that year and we’re doing it again this year,” she said.
Along with the free membership, all the activities the kids participate in are free as well, which according to Keenan is very helpful.
“With six kids it can be expensive, so that’s one of the things I love, it’s just all free. Last year, all six of the kids completed the entire thing and this year we are one badge away from completing it,” Keenan said.
Bolli said the city is really excited about the program and said, “It’s just a great community involved activity.”