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All-inclusive playground in Chautauqua Park to be dedicated Wednesday evening

Ceremony to include ribbon cutting, fundraising meal for all-inclusive fishing pier.

All-inclusive playground
The recently completed all-inclusive playground at Worthington's Chautauqua Park will be celebrated in a dedication ceremony at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — The public is invited to the dedication and celebration of the newly completed all-inclusive playground at Worthington’s Chautauqua Park Wednesday evening.

Food, including pulled pork sandwiches, chips, water and a cookie, will be served for a free-will donation from 5 to 6:30 p.m., with the program to begin at 6:45 p.m. All of the proceeds from the meal will go to support plans for an all-inclusive fishing pier at Chautauqua Park.

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Both the pier and the playground are projects of Worthington’s Early Risers Kiwanis. The group’s efforts to bring a state-of-the-art playground to Worthington for children of all ages and abilities began in 2018.

“A (Kiwanis) member came up with the idea to put a friendship swing in, and Landscape Structures came down and gave us a presentation in the fall of 2018,” said Kiwanian Paulette Sjogren, who co-chaired the fundraising committee with Loreena Luetgers.

After seeing the types of play spaces Landscape Structures could create for special needs children, the Kiwanians decided in February 2019 to begin a fundraising campaign, including writing grants.

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“We researched over 50 (grants) and applied for 10 or 12,” Luetgers shared.

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Natalie Galvez spins Aria Flores, 6, of Worthington, as videographer Jane Zambrano, 3, records them using the new playground equipment in Chautauqua Park, Worthington in this August 2021 Globe file photo.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

Success came quickly, with the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation awarding the group a matching $125,000 grant the week before Christmas 2019. By Jan. 4, 2020, the fundraising committee had compiled a list of all businesses, groups and foundations in the area to approach for monetary donations.

“By the time COVID hit, we already had 60% of it raised,” added Priscilla Williams who, with her husband Clair, was also on the fundraising committee for the $425,000 project. Combined, the group had met with 175 individuals, businesses and organizations.

“The more we talked about it, the more excited we became,” said Sjogren, admitting it was never “if” the playground would be built, but “when”.

But it was because of COVID that the Kiwanians received rejection letters in response to many of the grants they’d applied for.

“Foundations didn’t know where they were going,” Luetgers said. It was understandable — no one knew the impact the pandemic would have.

Every little bit — and every grant — helped. Plus, the city of Worthington, knowing the existing playground equipment at Chautauqua Park needed to be replaced in another two to three years, contributed $100,000 toward the project.

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Perhaps the greatest community effort in the fundraising process happened, though, when the Kiwanians applied for a Legacy of Play grant sponsored by Landscape Structures and Kiwanis International. The grant application involved an online voting contest, and community residents — and even those outside the area — were rallied to vote.

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“We even stood outside JBS and asked them to vote for the playground,” said committee member Maynard Townswick.

The community support worked, too, keeping the local application in the Top 10 for the full two weeks of the voting period. The next round of the competition was based on the committee’s grant application, and the Worthington project was chosen as the winner.

“This is a community project,” Luetgers said. “It wasn’t us — it was the community, it’s their playground.”

Still, the local Kiwanis group had one specific child in mind when they planned the playground and selected each and every one of the pieces of equipment for it.

Blaine Frisch, the son of Dan and Amber Frisch of Worthington, was their motivation.

“He can’t play in a park, but this one he can play in,” Luetgers said. “He calls it ‘My park’.”

Frisch, who will be in the fifth grade this fall, will cut the ribbon during Wednesday evening’s dedication ceremony.

While the playground equipment and rubberized pour-in-place surface were installed last year, the entire project wasn’t completed until late June, when the gaga pit was constructed, the benches added and the pencil-shaped picket fence installed. There are 305 pickets in the fence — each was sold for $75 as a fundraiser and engraved with the contributor’s name

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Equipment for the new all-inclusive playground coming to Worthington's Chautauqua Park is unloaded Tuesday morning, Dec. 22, 2020. The addition of the new playground was sparked by a Worthington Early Risers Kiwanis fundraising campaign, and a check for more than $253,000 was presented to the city for the project in November 2020.
Special To The Globe

The park contains 31 different components, with 18 individuals or organizations purchasing 18 of those pieces of equipment.

Sjogren said a lot of time was spent determining what pieces to purchase. Committee members went to similar parks and took note of what equipment was most popular. They even talked to children at those parks to see what their favorites were.

Considering the use the all-inclusive playground has had thus far, the choices they made were perfect.

“There’s been over 98 people on that playground at a time,” said Luetgers, adding that she’s talked to several families from out of town — even out of state — who have marveled at the playground.

Because of the playground’s surface, the Kiwanis group asks that no food or drink be taken onto the playground. Every day, Kiwanis members have had to go out and clean the rubberized surface due to a nearby sand pit constructed in the play space. Sand will erode the mat surface, and was not part of the Kiwanis group’s plan for the space.

Clair Williams said approximately 95% of the donations for the park came within a 25-mile radius of the city of Worthington. At Wednesday evening’s dedication, they will recognize the donors, as well as individuals and businesses who gave in-kind labor to make the play space a reality.

People are encouraged to bring a lawn chair for the dedication ceremony, and then stay for the “Amazing” Worthington City Band concert at 7:30 p.m.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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