A team of Earlham College students have delivered on their plan to bring a first-of-its-kind playground to the Richmond area.
“Playground with a Purpose,” a play space built for children with special needs, is now open at Clear Creek Park thanks to the collective efforts of Caleb Smith, Peniel Ibe, Truman McGee, Rachel Logan-Wood and Regan Lowring. The five Environmental Studies majors earned bachelor’s degrees from Earlham College in May 2017.
In about a year’s time, beginning in September 2016, the team completed the necessary research, design work and fundraising necessary to complete the project in partnership with Richmond’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The team raised more than $200,000 from donations and matching grants. Even students and faculty from Life Skills classrooms at Richmond Community Schools contributed to their efforts.
“This playground is for children of all abilities but is purpose-built for children with sensory learning disorders and other physical disabilities,” Smith says. “What has struck me during the creation of this playground is that in these somewhat divisive political times in our country, our community came together around this project.”
The playground features traditional playground equipment like swings and slides along with movable sensory panels and dome-like structures for children seeking a break from play.
“This was important to me as a potential project because we had this need within our community that we have not met as a parks system,” Parks Superintendent Denise Retz says. “We gave the team from Earlham a lot of free reign to do what they like in design and fundraising and all aspects of the project. They did a wonderful job.”
One of the more distinctive elements of the playground is that it is fenced in to promote safety.
“The closest fenced in playground from here is about 75 miles away so this will serve as a really great purpose for the Richmond area,” Logan-Wood says. “We spent a lot of time researching effective designs for sensory playgrounds. Inclusivity was very important to us.”
This community-based initiative is yet another example of the kinds of projects that are encouraged by the College for students to work on real projects with real consequences at the local, regional and global level. A major initiative at Earlham called the Epic Advantage further provides the offer of funding to complete a community project, internship or research experience for all interested students before graduation.
“This is much more than just a playground,” says Jay Roberts, Earlham associate vice president of academic affairs. “These students developed a powerful set of knowledge, skills and abilities while engaging in cross-disciplinary work in child development, autism and special education that will help the community with a demonstrated need.”