Local youth push for new playground at YMCA

Article by Emeline Rodenas of KPC Media

KENDALLVILLE — The perfect playground— that’s every young child’s dream.

So when some of the Cole Family YMCA summer camp kids mentioned they wanted a playground at the local YMCA, three local youngsters, Luke Walters, Andrew Oakes and Dallas Plattner, took the initiative and are now taking that task from dream to reality.

Sixth-grader Luke Walters is the mastermind for the Leaders in Training playground project and came up with the idea. The project is group-focused, with an expected budget for the project is $70,000 and a timeline of having the playground done by next spring or summer.

Walters and other camp participants would spend time playing outside on the north side of the YMCA, which is currently a 70-foot by 70-foot empty, grassy area. Although kickball and other games were always an option, the area lacked a playground for kids to climb on. That’s what led Walters to the idea:

A playground designed by kids, for kids.

The three boys got together with Kendallville Park and Recreation Department Recreation Director Dawn McGahen and Cole Family YMCA Executive Director Casey Weimer and said they wanted to take on the project. McGahen and Weimer walked the group through the planning process and then connected with Sinclair Recreation of Nappanee and Gametime.

“This is really their project. We just fed them questions, told them this was something to think about,” Weimer said.

“There really aren’t any playgrounds on the south side of town,” McGahen said.

The playground company then planned a time to meet with McGahen, Weimer and the boys on Thursday to get an exact idea of what kind of playground they wanted. McGahen supplied the boys with a catalog of playground equipment beforehand, so they could get ideas.

“A perfect playground has to have a good tube slide,” Oakes said at the meeting Thursday.

“We want things that can develop teamwork, like merry-go-rounds,” Plattner said.

Other ideas mentioned include space modules, skyrunners, rock walls and a health ladder. Some of the boys’ inspiration comes from the already existing playground at Bixler Park. Most of these elements also promote higher activity levels, which helps make the community healthier too.

The playground area would also ideally have an area specific to sensory disabilities, to allows kids to have an area where they can wait quietly until they feel ready to jump into the action. Inclusivity was a request all three stressed.

Ground-level elements will help make the playground handicap-accessible. A swing area will be part of the project, hopefully with a number of baby and adult swings to accommodate all age groups.

A visual plan will be prepared by Sinclair Recreation and Gametime by Saturday, Sept. 1, so the boys can continue their fundraising with a visual aid in-hand.

This project wouldn’t be possible without heavy fundraising efforts. Despite the unknown, the boys are confident they’ll raise the funds. In fact, they already have ideas about how to fundraise. East Noble Middle School’s seventh-grade and eighth-grade basketball teams hope to meet with the boys to discuss making them the recipient of the teams’ annual fundraiser.

That’s why they’re calling the project a community-build.

The plan is to have people from the community assist with the stages of the project, including the construction of the playground. The boys even helped measure the space Thursday with a professional measuring wheel. So far, the colors for the playground will be a mix of sky blue, dark green and a metallic gray.

“So far, these three have raised $11,000 by going to donors, including local businesses. These three are the ones who have really reached out, done the fundraising,” McGahen said.

A matching cap grant of $35,000 from an anonymous donor has also been pledged, to help with the cost of the project.

“Some of the younger kids have also brought in some projects. They came up with the bake sale and lemonade stand and they raised $400,” McGahen said.

The kids will soon start writing grants to a local foundation and will reach out to more businesses,” McGahen said.

People interested in donating to the community project can contact the YMCA at 347-9622.

“They can just contact the YMCA. We have a special account set up at the Y. They can pay with cash or check and get a receipt for tax purposes,” McGahen said.

The playground itself, when finished, will not be fenced-off, so the community can use it even when the YMCA is closed.

“That’s something the boys pushed, actually,” McGahen said.

YMCA staff have mentioned safety, adding that there’s a possibility of putting in speed bumps at the neighboring road to help slow drivers and keep kids safe.

The excitement on the boys’ faces was easy to see.

“We’re so excited because the little kids will make friends,” Plattner said.

“It’s so exciting watching their passion, their visions. It makes you feel good about the future when you’ve got little leaders like that,” McGahen said.