WORTHINGTON And the winner is ... Early Risers Kiwanis.

Children of all abilities will soon have an all-inclusive playground at Chautauqua Park, thanks in significant part to the club's playground project winning the seventh annual Legacy of Play contest, sponsored by Kiwanis International and Landscape Structures Inc. For submitting the winning contest entry, the Early Risers Kiwanis Club of Worthington will receive $25,000 in playground equipment.

“Really? You’re kidding!” exclaimed Loreena Luetgers, an Early Risers Kiwanis member, after learning her club had won.

She clapped her hands and pumped both fists in the air. “Thank you! I’m about to cry,” she added.

The club garnered community support for the project, including the city of Worthington, Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and Prairie Rehabilitation.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Worthington is a community that has a definite need for an all-inclusive facility where all children can have a positive playground experience," read the club's contest entry. "There are many parks in the city, many with playground equipment, but none of the playground equipment is handicapped approved, so there is a definite need for an all-inclusive type playground.

"This project will have equipment that is accessible for wheelchair bound individuals on a rubber surface. The playground will include all children with any physical or emotional need, where they are no longer classified as 'handicapped' but can play inclusively with everyone.

"One individual approached for a donation to the playground gave a sizeable donation and stated that he was 100% in favor of the project. When he was young, he had polio and was deprived of doing activities that a normal child could do. It brought back memories of him being handicapped and having to sit on the sidelines and watch other children have a good time. This gentleman also owns a trucking company and has offered to transport the playground parts at no cost. This is one example of community commitment to this very worthwhile project."

A local family whose son has Joubert Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, also supported the playground project, and wrote a letter that accompanied the club’s contest entry.

“Since three months old, Blaine has been in physical, occupational and speech therapy and has made some great strides in his coordination and strength," the letter stated. "Play and peer relationships are also such important parts of development. What an all-inclusive playground will mean for us is that Blaine will be able to explore and wander the playground independently, he will have more opportunities to be engaged with other children and hopefully make a new friend.”

The family noted their child would be able to use the playground equipment independently and play with his siblings and others.

“When we talk about the park with Blaine and show him pictures of what is coming, he gets excited and will give a shrieking shout of “Yay!” and then tap his chest and say, “Me too, I can do it, I can play.”

Plans call for the playground to be installed on Kiwanis One Day on Oct. 24, 2021. The club plans to begin construction on April 1 of next year, in tandem with the city’s construction of a new handicap accessible restroom facility.

Andrew Sloan, whose club in Barron, Wisconsin won last year’s Legacy of Play contest, served as a judge this year.

“This club had the clearest vision of all the entries,” Sloan said of the plans from Early Risers Kiwanis.

Landscape Structures Inc., a partner of Kiwanis International, will provide the playground equipment. Those two organizations have sponsored the Legacy of Play contest for seven years, annually awarding playground equipment to a Kiwanis club that shows the most need while presenting a fully developed plan for fundraising, construction and maintenance.

“On behalf of Landscape Structures, I would like to congratulate the Early Risers Kiwanis of Worthington on winning the Legacy of Play contest,” said Pat Faust, president of Landscape Structures. “We are thankful for the club’s commitment to their community, inclusion and play equipment. We look forward to working together with Kiwanis members and the community of Worthington to bring life to this inclusive playground.”

“Kiwanis International is delighted to award the Worthington Early Risers Kiwanis Club $25,000 in playground equipment to help build a new inclusive playground,” said 2020-21 Kiwanis International President Art Riley. “Kids need Kiwanis, and this playground will give kids of all abilities the opportunity to play together, and it will become a welcome destination point for families and children.”

Pam Norman, chief philanthropy officer of the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, was encouraged to see 48 entries for this year’s contest.

“We had better participation than ever,” she said, “and it shows that clubs are eager to get back to doing something joyful.”