Last week the Lycoming County Commissioners, along with a group of organizers and supporters of the Kids United Community Playground, gathered at Stevens Primary School in Williamsport. Their purpose was to pledge a large donation towards the funding of the planning and construction of an inclusive community playground, a dream that is now just within financial reality.
A few years ago, Spencer Sweeting, pastor at City Alliance Church, and his wife were at a playground with their kids. They watched a father carry his daughter from her wheelchair, over some treacherous ground, to a swing that wasn’t equipped for her needs.
“He shouldn’t have to do that,” they said to one another, and the seed was planted to build a playground that accommodated all children.
The seed took immediate root. The couple approached community members involved with the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of Williamsport, and even the Williamsport Area School District Educational Foundation. The project was adopted and fundraising began.
“We brought in the help of a consultant,” said Sweeting. The consultant, the Executive Director for Pocono Alliance--and a friend of Sweetings--had been involved in bulding a number of inclusive playgrounds and offered his expertise.
The committee also approached the Williamsport School District to inquire about potential properties for the playground, and a committment for maintaining equipment and cleaning the park’s ground, to which they were quick to agree.
Fundraising began with the creation of the Kids United Playground website, and a GoFundMe account. Educating the community about the purpose of an inclusive play, and how it’s different from a typical playground, has been a key component for community buy-in.
“Inclusive playgrounds are much more than choosing colorful play components and connecting them to ramped inclines. A really great inclusive play space provides access, promotes inclusive play between children of all abilities, and develops the whole community, whole environment, and whole child - across all developmental domains,” notes the website.
Inclusive playgrounds address not only the physical challenges a child may have, but als cognitive and emotional disabilities, and visual impairments.
“If you remove barriers, you remove disabilities,” said Sweeting.
The $125,000 check that Commissioners Jack McKernan, Rick Mirabito, and Tony Mussare, presented last Thursday are funds from the Act 13 gas impact fee in the form of a Legacy grant. The grant was established to fund statewide initiatives including the development of the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.
The check presentation was held at Stevens Primary for a particular reason. According to the website, “the school is the most centrally located school in the region and less than two miles from downtown Williamsport and a short walk from the UPMC Susquehanna campus. More importantly, the school’s student population is representative of the rich ethnic and socioeconomic diversity found in our community.”
During the check presentation, kids attending classes that day were allowed to be a part of the exciting event.
Businesses and community members also came forward with pledges during the check presentation. Alabaster Coffee pledged $1,000 on the spot. Blaise Alexander pledged $5,000 via a text message, and other individuals donated as well.
The project is now within reach. What began as a $400,000 goal is whittled away to just 15 percent left to raise.