Guest Blog: The importance of inclusive play

In June, we awarded the Iola Kiwanis club in Iola, Kan., $25,000 in playground equipment as part of the Make a Difference Through Play contest. We’re happy to share another update from Michael Ford, member of Iola Kiwanis and community resource officer for the Iola Police Department.

The M.O.M.S. group has been a great help in planning the inclusive playground. They’re excited about the playground, but even more excited for the opportunity to educate the community about their children with special needs. During a recent fundraiser, each of the moms brought something to display about their child. Then in the presentation, they talked about how the inclusive playground would benefit their child with special needs in addition to their typically developing children.

The inclusive playground in Iola gives parents an opportunity to educate the community about the special needs of their children.

Iola is a town of 5,600 people in a county of 14,000. And out of the three surrounding counties, we’re the only one with a Wal-Mart. People from the tri-county area visit Iola for many reasons—a shopping trip, our parks, swimming competitions. And soon, our new inclusive playground. The nearest inclusive playgrounds are in Wichita, Kansas City and Joplin, all of which are about a two-hour drive away. So when parents hear about our inclusive playground, I definitely think they’ll visit Iola to give their kids a chance to play.

The design for the Iola Kiwanis club's inclusive playground.

I don’t want to say “If you build it, they’ll come,” but I think that’s the case. With the way the design is, every kid can play on this playground. I think people will be coming here; Iola will become a stop for many families.

Michael, the Iola Kiwanis club and the entire community of Iola have been busy fundraising for the inclusive playground since winning the Make a Difference through Play contest. And congratulations to the entire team are in order. As of earlier this month, Iola Kiwanis secured two additional grants—one from the Kansas Health Foundation and another from KaBOOM!—for the playground to bring them within about $15,000 of their fundraising goal!

Stay tuned for another update from Michael next month. He’ll talk more about the benefits of the partnership between Kiwanis International and Landscape Structures.

Guest Blog: Designing a truly inclusive playground

In June, we awarded the Iola Kiwanis club in Iola, Kan., $25,000 in playground equipment as part of the Make a Difference Through Play contest. Since winning, they’ve been busy with plans, and we’re happy to share another update from Michael Ford, member of Iola Kiwanis and community resource officer for the Iola Police Department.

When our playground consultant from ATHCO, LLC visited with us to discuss the inclusive playground design, five representatives from the M.O.M.S. group were at the meeting along with the school’s physical therapist and a couple of Kiwanis members. We all paged through the Landscape Structures catalog—the moms focused on products that might specifically help their kids—and the rest of us picked out items that we thought we be fun for all kids.

The Marble Panel™, Xylofun Panel® and Bongo Panel all provide sensory-rich experiences for kids.

L to R: Marble Panel™, Xylofun Panel® and Bongo Panel

Some of the moms focused on including sensory panels because they figured that even though their children might not have a lot of muscle strength to climb or hang from overhead events, they can still participate and have fun. And I don’t know what kid isn’t going to enjoy beating on Bongo Drums or playing on a Xylophone, which is what some of the panels included. Another popular item was the Marble Panel™, which one mom whose child with vision problems picked out. The light shines through the marbles to engage kids’ sight, plus it offers a unique tactile experience.

As a parent of kids without special needs, I never thought about sensory items as part of the playground, but now I see that it’s very important. And it’s important for the development of all kids. That, to me, is how we’re providing a truly inclusive play space.

The Roller Table provides a unique sensory experience with its deep muscle pressure.

Roller Table™

While the moms focused on sensory-rich activities, the physical therapist thought more about what kids—with and without special needs—need for building strength. She chose climbers that would engage kids’ full bodies. And she thought the Roller Table™ would be great for kids that don’t have any lower body strength, as they can lie down and pull themselves through.

The design process has been very educational for us. The Cozy Dome®, which I just looked at as a fort or climber, can also be beneficial for children with autism to use as a “time-out” space if they get overstimulated. It was quite the learning experience to look at these playground products from a different point of view.

The Cozy Dome® offers kids a place to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy playground, take time by themselves or socialize together.

Cozy Dome®

After that first meeting, our playground consultant came back with a design that we all liked. The design is final; however, if we exceed our fundraising goal we’d love to add more inclusive playground pieces to the design.

Stay tuned for another update from Michael next month. He’ll talk more about the importance of inclusive play to the community of Iola.

Guest Blog: Securing funds for our inclusive playground

In June, we awarded the Iola Kiwanis club in Iola, Kan., $25,000 in playground equipment as part of the Make a Difference Through Play contest. Since winning, they’ve been busy with plans, and we’re happy to have an update to share from Michael Ford, member of the Iola Kiwanis club and community resource officer for the Iola Police Department.

After we were notified that we were the grand prize winners of the Make a Difference Through Play contest, our Kiwanis club met with the city council during open council to tell them about the $25,000 award from Landscape Structures. We took advantage of our time in front of them and also asked if they would consider pledging a matching donation to the inclusive playground. They agreed, which already put us at nearly 30 percent of our fundraising goal.

The Iola Kiwanis club asking for a matching $25,000 donation from the City of Iola.

The Iola Kiwanis club asking for a matching $25,000 donation from the City of Iola.

The award and the matching donation had our Kiwanis club energized, and we took that energy to meet with other local businesses to secure funds. The Iola Wal-Mart and a local bank each pledged $5,000, our Kiwanis club has pledged at least $2,500, and we have many more businesses pledging support with donations of anywhere from $500 to $1,500.

We’re working on a couple of grant applications—one through the Kansas Health Foundation and another with KaBOOM!. We also have fundraisers scheduled—a pancake breakfast, concessions at Farm City Days in Iola—with businesses pledging matching funds. Additionally, local construction companies have offered to donate materials when it comes time for the playground installation.

Iola is a city of 5,600 people. When you’re in a town this size, the community members know what’s happening in town. So while we have reached out to many businesses for donations, many have also approached us. We are trying to broaden our reach with a county-wide mailer to tell businesses and individuals that a fund has been set up through the Allen County Foundation so that they can easily make tax-deductible donations.

One design option for the Iola Kiwanis club's inclusive playground.

One design option for the Iola Kiwanis club’s inclusive playground.

Another aspect that was unexpected in this process was helping educate the community about planning, funding and installing a playground. Lots of the community members figured that we’d get the $25,000 from Landscape Structures and that would be it. But our vision is for a truly inclusive playground, and we realized quickly that we weren’t willing to cut back on the amount of playground equipment we wanted, and set our budget to meet that dream.

Stay tuned for another update from Michael next month when he’ll discuss getting community support.