The first school day back from summer vacation validated the long hours invested over the past 18 months by the playground committee. Teachers and students alike either stood in amazement of or climbed on, over, under and around the newly installed Miracle Recreation Equipment Co. playground structures.
“If you have a dream and the willingness to follow it through, there is very little that a dedicated group of concerned citizens can’t accomplish. There were some people in town who said we couldn’t raise the money it would take to refurbish and rehabilitate the playground behind the [Conway, NH] elementary school. They said the village just didn’t have enough people and the ones we did have were just too fundraised out. But that didn’t stop the committee from trying,” said Kirstin Coleman, fundraising chairman.
Right from the outset of the fundraising effort, the objective was not to sell anything that people couldn’t use or to pressure them to buy something they couldn’t use or didn’t need. The committee was determined to give the donors fair value for their money and also to give them the sense that they were an important part in a community-wide investment in the future of their hometown.
There were street fairs with fresh baked goods and old-fashioned ice cream socials. The group produced and sold a kids calendar and they worked the telephones to solicit donations. All told, the citizen playground committee held dozens of various fundraisers over an 18-month period to raise the necessary $46,000. One of the most successful of these from a financial standpoint was a huge cookie dough sale. It brought in thousands of dollars because almost everyone likes to keep cookies in his house. Several charitable foundations and private individuals also made significant cash grants to help meet the targeted goal.
This does not include the value of the donated time and materials that were willingly forthcoming from local contractors and other concerned residents. That would swell the total playground investment to between $60,000 and $80,000!
“There were days that we learned how easy it was for a single person to raise hundreds or even thousands of dollars with only a single telephone call. And there were other times that it took all of us a full day just to raise a third of that. But slowly the money came in,” continued the local teacher and mother of two.
Noah Coleman, Kirstin’s husband and an executive of the Alvin J. Coleman & Sons, Inc. construction company of Conway, New Hampshire, was able to lend the expertise of his construction company and his employees to the undertaking. His involvement came about when his spouse pointed out that it would be in his own best interest to lend a hand since, among others, his own children would be using the new playground.
“I’d conservatively estimate that my men donated a minimum of 200 man hours to the playground project. In addition, we provided, at no charge, the use of dump trucks, concrete trucks, hydraulic excavators, front end and skid steer loaders and asphalt paving equipment. We arranged to do this work on the weekends so as not to disrupt our normal work routine,” continued the firm’s vice president.
The first item for the Coleman crew was the removal of about 600 cubic yards of old earth that bedded the previous wooden playground equipment which was also removed. Leveling and compacting the new surface came next, followed by the drilling of the foundation holes for the new playground equipment. These were from 24 to 36 inches deep and filled with concrete once the legs were positioned. This included the five-foot-deep foundations for the basketball court backboard support. These operations were followed by the installation of a one-foot-thick layer of compressed and sanitized wood chips for the new playground base. A final operation was the asphalt resurfacing of those new sections that required that.
While all this activity was ongoing at the playground site, the ladies were busy raising money for the project. Bake sales, hot dog sales, ice cream socials, and a town-wide hanging flower basket sale were held. The telephone wires were kept hot by one-on-one personal contacts soliciting cash donations. Here again, in-kind donations of freshly picked garden vegetables and cut flowers – later made into bouquets – were accepted and turned into cash to pay for the new playground equipment.
“I can’t begin to describe the cooperation and assistance that we received from Petelleni & Associates of Burlington, Vermont and the Miracle Recreation Equipment Co. We were familiar with their work from other playground projects they had done previously at other local schools. The decision was made to make our playground available to a wide range of age groups (3 to 12 years) in an effort to maximize its use rather than just limiting it to elementary school age children. Bon Petellini and the manufacturer were most helpful in this respect, too,” continued Kirstin Coleman.
“One of the most popular of all our fundraising events was a ‘donations only’ weekly showing of Walt Disney movies. We even had an old-fashioned popcorn machine. The films were shown informally on Friday evenings in the elementary school gymnasium and parents were encouraged to come with all their children. They loved it because it gave them something to do as a family group, something often lacking in today’s headlong rush. Some of the kids even came in their “jammies” since it was past their bedtime,” said Mandy McDonald, also a local school teacher with kids of her own and a tireless committee member.
There were all too many committee members to be singled out with one other possible exception. Erin Perry handled the all-important financial chores and was also involved in the playground project from day one to completion.
The bottom line, with apologies to Hilary Clinton, is that it requires the cooperation of an entire village to raise the funds necessary to provide its children with a safe modern playground when there are no public funds available for the purpose…but it can be done.
Conway, New Hampshire residents proved that. When the final installation weekend arrived, between 40 and 50 volunteers showed up to assist in the assembly, erection and the final sweep down of the new playground.
This figure did not include those many unsung citizens who, without compensation, supplied the volunteers with fresh home baked snacks and home cooked meals!