|The ball field where the playground will be built|
When did you first come up with the idea for an inclusive playground?
In March of 2011 we went on Kade's wish trip to Disney. We stayed at Give Kids the World and we saw our first accessible playground, Matthew's Boundless Playground. Kade was able to swing on a playground for the first time. Shortly after we returned home I saw a local news story out of St. Louis about Zachary's Playground, the first playground by Unlimited Play Playgrounds. After seeing the story I emailed Executive Director Natalie Blakemore to ask if she was available to start the ball rolling on a project in my area, about 40 miles south of St Louis. She explained that she was busy with a few other projects, but was willing to give me a swing if I could get it installed by my town.
|The family's trip to Disney World|
How did you get the ball rolling on the playground?
Kade passed away before I could get my town to agree to install the swing. About six months after his death, there was an article in our local paper that the City of Herculaneum (a neighboring town) was thinking about contracting with Unlimited Play Playgrounds to build an accessible playground. I found out when the city council would be voting on the contract and we filled their chambers with supporters. I gave a statement to the need of a playground that is accessible to ALL children regardless of ability. We had at least 20 individuals wearing 3e Love shirts in the chambers, we were a force to be reckoned with! During that meeting, the Herculaneum City Council voted unanimously to approve the contract and to start the process of designing and fundraising. Shortly thereafter the city asked that I help them with logistics, design and fundraising. The city held a kickoff party to officially start fundraising and to unveil the first design, and it was during that party that they unveiled the name of the playground, Kade's Playground.
How did you fundraise?
My only fundraising experience was selling candy bars and magazines for school fundraisers. Thankfully the Unlimited Play team is skilled at fundraising and between trivia nights, raffles and dinners, we raised just over $350,000. Unlimited Play took the lead during "official" meetings with local businesses. They also organized our kickoff event and secured our first major donors. The surrounding communities and school organizations stepped up and had fundraisers for this project as well. Several local schools did penny wars between classrooms; it is amazing when a school brings several hundred of dollars in change. We also held a raffle for an iPad. A local beautician school held a haircut-a-thon, and donated the fees they charged. The owner of our local Diary Queen held a dollar pin-up program in the three local DQ's. The most unique event we held was a "Cupcake 5k" where runners ate a cupcake every 1/4 mile to shave time off their run, sponsored by a local gourmet cupcake shop. Tracy, the owner of the cupcake shop, raised more than $6,000 during that event!
What are some key things you've learned about fundraising?
Asking people for money can be a tricky situation. When soliciting I try to make it clear that my feelings would not be hurt if someone is not willing to donate. You never know where your next donation will come from. We have had kids sell lemonade and donate their profits, and some have donated profits from yard-sales. When approaching a business it is important to tell the story of why a playground like this is needed in our area. Most of our business solicitations happened during weekday business hours. I would typically meet the Mayor and reps from Unlimited Play, then we would meet with the business for an hour or so, or even meet over lunch. Jackson, our older son, attends school with several local business owner's kids, so the connection was easy to make at times. Never underestimate the power of a conversation between parents on the soccer field sidelines. It continues to amaze me when we get a message on Facebook from a person who has read about the playground online or in the paper and would like to make a donation. Thankfully social media is a great tool for spreading the word about this project. We have followers from as far away as Ohio, Mississippi and Washington State.
You just won a $350,000 local grant—how did that happen?
Our local hospital was sold to Mercy Health Systems, and the proceeds of that transaction were deposited into a foundation trust. The Jefferson Memorial County Foundation has committed to providing grants to health initiatives in our county. Unlimited Play applied on our behalf, and we were awarded the maximum grant amount of $350,000.
Has working on Kade's Playground been helpful to you in healing?
It has been an interesting journey. At times we know he is present and has a hand in some of the happenings. A friend of mine told me, "I really admire you, you are building a pond for other people to sail their sailboats, and you don't own a boat." That statement really caught me off guard, I had never thought of it like that. Yes, it would have been great for Kade to play on this playground, but Annette and I get the satisfaction that kids with disabilities won't have to sit on the sideline any longer. While it does hurt, there is great satisfaction to see this project move forward the way it is.
You mentioned that you're on to the next great project already, Swing With Me. What's that all about?
Unlimited Play has started a new program for cities, organizations, or schools to install accessible swings in existing playgrounds. They are also offering grants to offset some of the cost. The total cost of Kade's Playground will be more than a million, and not every city can afford that. They are calling it "Swing With Me" and the page has a paragraph "Our inspiration," which is about Kade. Annette and I are very proud that our original goal of just installing a swing in our local playground has turned into a initiative that could very easily spread across the country! If someone is interested they can mention this idea to their local parks board, city council, or mayor. You can find more information at Unlimited Play.