Image: Carter Oosterhouse, Amy Smart and playground children
Brandon Wade  /  Rebuilding Together via AP
HGTV's Carter Oosterhouse and actress Amy Smart with children at a newly built playground in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 3.
NBC News
updated 2/9/2011 12:03:32 PM ET 2011-02-09T17:03:32

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with celebrity carpenter Carter Oosterhouse, host of HGTV’s “Carter Can,” about his foundation, Carter’s Kids. The nonprofit organization builds playgrounds across America to promote fitness and self-esteem in kids.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Carter’s Kids worked with Rebuilding Together, a non-profit organization that strives to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities, to repair homes and a playground in Arlington, Texas — just two miles from the Cowboys Stadium, site of the NFL championship game.

Interviewed by Ezra Dreiblatt

Q. What drove you to create your foundation Carter’s Kids?

Oosterhouse: Carter’s Kids is a nonprofit that I started about three, maybe four years ago.  The whole idea behind it began because I am a builder, and I wanted to work with kids, helping them out in some way. I just figured one of the easiest things for me to do was keep kids physically active, because I like to be physically active, and another way of doing that is to build playgrounds.

As everything started to evolve, I realized how serious the fight against childhood obesity is, and how one in three kids struggle with it. Childhood obesity has been on the rise in the last decade or so. Playgrounds are something that would help keep kids physically active. Kids are 400 percent more likely to be physically active if they have something attractive to play on.  The reality is there aren’t that many playgrounds out there or attractive things to play on for kids. 

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Playgrounds are competing with video games, television and computers.  Playgrounds [have] to be something that can basically take the place or beat out the computers, which is a tough sale for any kid that is 9, 10, 11 or 12. That is my goal; that is my mission, [and] that’s what we’ve been doing the last three years.

Q. Is there a particularly memorable or moving experience that you’ve had while working with Carter’s Kids?

Oosterhouse: The playgrounds are not that difficult, we just have to make sure that we have everything lined up. When we build a playground and the kids come and play on it, [I think] that is the most moving experience.  Their eyes are so big, and you see all these families, and it’s really a community.  It’s definitely appreciated by the [entire] community, and you can see that from the parents to the kids. 

The kids obviously love playing on it, and the parents just love having a place where they can go. And it does so much more than just curbing childhood obesity and keeping kids physically active, it also provides a common place for families, parents and communities to gather and hang out and have a little fun.

Q. Leading up to the Super Bowl, you're teaming up with the NFL. How are they contributing to Kickoff to Rebuild, and are any players directly involved?

Oosterhouse: Kickoff to Rebuild is something that we came up with in conjunction with Lowe’s and Rebuilding Together. Rebuilding Together will be doing 12 homes around the area.  It’s really neat, because I’ve been working with Rebuilding Together for the last three years and it’s kind of neat to bring my organization into their world and vice versa.  So while they’re building the 12 homes, I’m going to be building a playground at the school [at the end of the block], and that’s the community scope of things, benifiting not only the individual homes, but also the playground for the community in general. 

We’re also going to have NFL players present. We don’t know which players are going to be there just yet, but we’ve been told some past and present NFL players will be there to help us out.  We’re going to have some cheerleaders and a lot of public figures around the greater Dallas area.  So it should be fun!

We usually have good turnout for these types of events because they make you feel good when you're finished. Just helping people improves their everyday life.  But at the same time, there’s just that community involvement and we want these people to understand that hey, listen, were here to help you guys out a little bit.  And we sort of hand over the reins to them once we’re finished and you can see the appreciation on their face and that makes us feel extremely good at the end of the day.

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Q. What are some of the challenges in building a playground?

Oosterhouse: First off, playgrounds are not what they used to be. It’s amazing what they have out there. We work really closely with GameTime, and have gotten on the same page so far.  It’s really interesting; you want to make the best, the most elaborate, the biggest, the brightest playground out there. 

You know what I do, I make over homes on a daily basis, and I always challenge myself to make the next kitchen, or the next bedroom, or the next bathroom better than I did before.  And now with playgrounds I see I’m going down that same pattern to make the next playground bigger and better and more amazing for the kids when they come up there. 

So I think that is the biggest challenge that I’m facing right now because I always want to one up myself on the last one.  But it’s also fun because I have fun doing that, and playgrounds are by no means the hardest things to build.  They're really cool, a lot cooler than they were 10 years ago.

Q. What do you plan on doing next with Carter’s Kids?

Oosterhouse: Right now we’ve partnered up to do a total of six [playgrounds] this year with Lowe’s and Rebuilding Together.  And we’re working in various areas around the country, so we probably want to do about 10 to 12 more playgrounds this year, basically one a month.  And hopefully year after year we will increase that number, slowly but surely.  It’s a slow growth for a nonprofit, but it’s mine, and it’s something I have a lot of fun doing, so we will have continual growth year after year. 

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