Vikings Build Playground and Teamwork

Vikings players and staff members gathered at a North Minneapolis school on Wednesday to help construct a playground for a charter school that wouldn't have been able to otherwise afford the project.

Vikings players didn't have practice on Wednesday, but there was still an organized team activity. More than 250 volunteers, including more than 150 Vikings executives, front office staff and players helped build another playground for a Twin Cities school.

This year, the third straight year the organization has assembled one, the target was Seed Academy/Harvest Prep School in North Minneapolis, a charter school of about 500 students in kindergarten through sixth grade with another 60 in preschool.

"Ninety-nine percent of our students are African-American, so we used African history and culture to teach the principles of our values," said Eric Mahmoud, who along with his wife Ella founded the school 23 years ago.

Seed Academy/Harvest Prep receives about 85 to 90 percent of its funding through the state, with the rest of the expenses coming from fund-raisers and corporate partners like the Carlson Foundation and General Mills.

But Wednesday's event wouldn't have been possible without the help of the Vikings, Toro and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.

"I've had a relationship with the Vikings and it goes back probably seven or eight years now," Mahmoud said. "Different players have contributed to the school, they've come out to the school, they've volunteered in the classrooms. So that's how we started the relationship."

In fact, the wife of former Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone worked at the school.

About three months ago, the Vikings' director of community relations, Brad Madson, asked if the school would be interested in having the playground built for them, a project that otherwise would have been too expensive for the school. Mahmoud estimated that the playground equipment was worth more than $100,000 and the landscaping was worth another $50,000.

"That's a quality system there. We probably had a playground for 500 children that could service about 15 children at a time (before the new system)," he said.

Vikings coach Brad Childress said the team benefits as well.

"We were just talking about the team-building experience and we really do get more out of it than probably the kids here at the Seed Academy," Childress said. "It was nice to meet Eric and Ella and how they started this and how they've grown it. It's nice to give back something, whether it's in the classroom sharing or getting out here and lending a little sweat and toil."

Staff members started arriving at the school at about 8 a.m. and worked throughout the morning. Players, who were getting their annual physicals this morning, and coaches arrived by bus some four hours later to help complete the project.

They mixed concrete in wheelbarrows, assembled picnic tables, playground equipment and park benches. But the sight of Childress with a thin but expanding layer of concrete on the front of his sweat pants left many observers joking that he just wiped it on there to look like he was working hard. In fact, Childress was in the thick of things mixing concrete with the linemen while other players were able to shovel and haul mulch or even help paint a mural on the outside wall of the school.

"I like to be well-rounded," Childress said when asked why he was put on concrete duty this year. "Everyone is useful, no one is necessary. The more you can do, the better off you are."

The Vikings have also offered tickets to students as a reward or incentive for the Seed Academy/Harvest Prep School in the past.

"That's the type of relationship we've had," Mahmoud said.

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