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Campus Engagement in Our Unit

Peoria Named Finalist in Play Everywhere Challenge

In July, City of Peoria was selected as a finalist in the Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million national competition that will award outside-the-box ideas to make play easy, available, and fun for kids and families in cities across the U.S. The Challenge is hosted by KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all children, particularly those growing up in poverty in America. The project titled Lots of Fun! was selected as a finalist out of a pool of more than 1,000 applications nationwide.

University of Illinois School of Architecture professor Lynne Dearborn collaborated with University of Illinois Extension educator Kathie Brown to implement her spring studio course in Peoria as part of a cross campus initiative designed to enrich student learning and address complex community issues such as health in the built environment. Students in the studio course provided initial ideas for the winning design concept. Kathie Brown, University of Illinois Extension educator, facilitated community engagement with City of Peoria, neighborhood residents, and organizations.

This effort aligns with the City of Peoria's overall goals for creating a green infrastructure to aid in storm water collection and creating healthy neighborhoods. Organizations working to implement the student concept included Peoria's Innovation Team, Peoria's Community Development departments, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Invest Health programming partners, Peoria County Health Department, and University of Illinois Extension. The team created an innovative plan to transform vacant lots in Peoria's Southside Neighborhood.

"The design transforms the lots into spaces that include interactive features such as bus stops, art installations, bike racks, and landscapes featured in the rendering," stated Kate Green, Project Manager City of Peoria Innovation Team. "The concept of the project is to re-imagine how features of the built environment can be both functional and fun at the same time while instilling the idea that play is possible everywhere."

Peoria's idea came from a passion for getting kids more involved in physical activity and art. Even though the project was not selected as a winner in the challenge, the team continues to work towards other funding options to help the Lots of Fun! project come to life.

To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge, including a gallery of ideas for what Play Everywhere could look like across the U.S., visit

For more information about the Designing Healthy Communities cross campus initiative project read the June 2016 Extension Snapshot


As a community and economic development educator, Kathie Brown worked with community leaders, government officials, volunteer groups, small business owners, and others to help communities become stronger and more economically viable. She focused on leadership and organizational development; local government education and relations; economic development strategies; participatory community planning/visioning processes; group process facilitation; collaboration and partnership building; public issue education; and understanding, using and developing data.

Prior to retirement in 2021, Brown worked with organizations and local governments to help them: (1) analyze and understand their needs, (2) identify alternative courses of action, (3) make informed decisions, (4) plan for the future and (5) evaluate their development efforts.

Kathie worked for Extension for almost 40 years, contributing to programs related to community health, digital literacy, STEAM education, and more.