A playground dreams are made of

4 A Better Chandler, Inc., a non-profit organization, started their initiative to implement an inclusive and accessible playground for children ages 2-5 with all different abilities at the Chandler Town Park in May. So far, they have raised $19,500 out of their $50,000 goal and they show no signs of stopping.

It all started with the Chandler Comprehensive Plan a few years back. The goal was to try and make the community a better place and one of the biggest issues raised by concerned citizens was the quality of life in Chandler. But when the ideas started to become too big, the comprehensive plan broke up and what began as a hope for a better Chandler, turned into a pipedream.

But it also got Wendy Wary, an administrative assistant for Chandler’s utilities department, and who was also a part of the comprehensive plan, serious about what could be done in the community.

Wary was also on the Parks Board a few years back and it came to the board’s attention that the equipment at the park playground was no longer safe. She said the equipment was 40 years old and it was so bad that the springs were sticking out.

“I mean if some kid was just coming at it,” she said, “they could get impaled.”

She said she got freaked out because her kids play there, and so she began to attend grant writing workshops to find out how she could get the money to finance a new, safe playground for Chandler. She was told that having a nonprofit was the best way to start. And that is when 4 A Better Chandler, Inc., of which Wary is now president of, started.

Wary said they incorporated last January and that their mission is to “improve the quality of life for residents of Chandler by implementing programs and projects that inspire, empower, educate and enrich the lives of every resident in the community.”

The board is made up of Daniel Edwards, vice president, Christina Hemenway, treasurer, Amber Chambers, secretary and Amanda Smith, board member. All are volunteers who want to make an impact in Chandler.

Although 4 A Better Chandler, Inc. has a lot of ideas planned for the future, their main goal right now is raising enough money to install the accessible playground.

Wary said play is a very crucial and important part of early childhood development and education. It provides children opportunities for problem solving, concentration, social learning experiences and development of pre-literacy skills.

She said that unfortunately, the Chandler Town Park currently has no playground equipment for this particular age group, which limits the opportunities for families with young children to benefit from this type of play.

She also said a lot of kids in Chandler complain there is nothing to do. She said they have a library that is well used, but that is about it. She believes it is time the kids have a park to play in.

“We don’t have any clubs or a Studio Bee type situation,” she said.

The plan to implement the playground is broken up into three main phases and they are still trying to get phase one complete.

Phase one includes two bucket swings, low-maintenance safety surfacing, a fencing enclosure, adjacent seating for caregivers and upgrades to existing infrastructure to provide an accessible entryway to the playground area. Some other elements featured will be educational reinforcements through the alphabet and numbers, different musical instruments and other tactile and visual sensory stimulation.

“The idea is that kids that have autism or sensory issues have a safe place to go and play,” she said. “And kids that don’t have those issues can still go and play and have fun, too.”

She said phase two and three are more expensive than phase one and include even more exciting equipment like three standard belt swings, a two-way zip-line and a flat table with handles where kids can pull themselves.

“Those will be perfect for kids who are sensory seekers,” she said. “And it will be good exercise.”

Other ideas include creating a tricycle/walking path, installing a small basketball goal for younger children, as well as painting playground games like four-square and hopscotch.

But she said they are only focusing on completing phase one now.

“People die off really quick with their enthusiasm when they don’t see something getting done,” she said. We want to show people that they are making a return on their investment.”

Wary said she cannot wait for the day when her son can play in the new, accessible park. She said when she was first working on the design of the playground, she showed her son videos online of ideas and he was so excited.

“He said, ‘mom when is this gonna happen?’” she said. “‘When can we play?’”

That is when Wary told her son that they would need to raise a lot of money first.

“And then he started to run all over the house and pick up change,” she said. “I guess he had hidden coins all over. When he was done, he came over to me and said, ‘mommy, will this help?’”

Wary said that was the moment she knew that all of the blood, sweat and tears she and the others members of 4 A Better Chandler were going to put into the Be The Change project, would be worth it.

She said the whole point of Be The Change is that anyone can help make a difference, no matter how much or little they give.

“We want everyone to feel like they can be involved in helping out,” she said. “Even if it’s just change. Every little bit helps.”

Wary said hopes to raise all of the $50,000 by the end of summer next year and to have phase one implemented by the end of 2017.

Donations to the Be The Change project can be made at https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/be-the-change-playground-project or by dropping off change to one of their change jars at local businesses like Guthrie’s pharmacy or Kemper’s Market. For more information on how tto help with the Be The Change playground project, visit http://www.4bcinc.org/news/be-the-change-playground-project-fundraising.

Marisa Patwa is a graduate of the University of Evansville with a degree in journalism and minor in political science.

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