On Saturday I went down to Mississippi where we have a post-Hurricane Katrina project. Our purpose was to build a KaBoom! playground at the Marsha Barbour Center. When the center is finished, it will include, in addition to the playground, a swimming pool, basketball court, wellness center and computer lab.

Mississippi and the Gulf Coast still need volunteers and help. The airplane in both directions was filled with faith-based young men and women spending a week of their time hammering nails and helping rebuild. What happened yesterday during the KaBoom! installation was an inspiration and an example of what America can do.

This is how Kaboom! works: Once the funds are raised to build a playground or play area (such as a skateboard park), the local children get together and draw what would be their ideal playground. The drawings are then put together, and a playground is designed.

When the installation day happens, hundreds of volunteers divide into teams, and within six magical hours a playground is born. These are not just the standard old metal bars, swings sandbox and slide, but creative places to play and imagine. There are climbing walls, places that look like modern tree houses, an edible garden, a maze and even benches that adults can use as a meditation area.

KaBoom!’s mission is to build a playground within walking distance of every child in America. It may seem like a mission that is not necessary, but when I arrived in the Gulf two weeks after the Hurricane I saw four children playing on a single bicycle. One child was on the handlebars, one in the seat and two on the back – not safe and surely not much fun.

KaBoom! is well on its way to its mission with more than 1,200 installations so far. The organization was the dream of one man, Darrell Hammond, who read about two children dying from suffocation while playing in an abandoned car. Darrell and his siblings had grown up in a group home, and so he sympathized with children who had to rely on the community for help. He also knew the power of good-hearted Americans who volunteer. So, KaBoom! was born. Now a huge organization of about 90 staff members, it reaches out across America. It is what I was taught made our country great: having a big idea and moving mountains to achieve it.

So, it was a shock when I came back from Mississippi late Saturday night and heard many of my talk media folks talking about Al Gore’s “pie-in-the-sky” plan to make us energy independent in 10 years. We produce about 2 percent of our energy now from alternative means. He wants us to produce all of it in 10 years. Why not?

If we can put 370 volunteers together on a very hot Saturday in July from very different backgrounds (rich, poor, black, white, young, old, military, civilian, very religious and not at all religious) then why can’t we put the same community spirit together to save and produce energy? No, we are not all scientists, but we can all cooperate to recycle, put solar panels up, install windmills, share transportation – and whatever else it takes to end our energy dependence.

Former Vice President Al Gore is no more a wacko for his vision than is KaBoom! founder Darrell Hammond. Al Gore has a clear vision that will not only free our economy, it will also free us from needing to pander to oil-producing countries. Some of us believe that energy independence will also end our push toward unnecessary wars.

I can see the e-mails now from the readers of this column saying that playgrounds are much simpler and less complicated then energy. Yes, they are. But the power of people working together is extraordinary. In the spirit of KaBoom!, let’s take a serious look at Al Gore’s proposals and see if we can use our community spirit to make us free at last from foreign oil.


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