HIBBING — Kiwanis helps kids around the world, and Kiwanis clubs focus on changing the world by serving children, one child and one community at a time.
The Hibbing Kiwanis Club is living out that mission by joining forces with the Greenhaven Parent Teacher Organization (GPTO) to bring its vision for an inclusive community playground to fruition. The playground would be built at Greenhaven Elementary (323 E. 37th St.) in Hibbing. The goal is to bridge the gap between all abilities and generations by replacing a decades-old ailing structure.
Inclusive Community Playground-Hibbing has been entered in the Kiwanis Legacy of Play Contest to win $25,000 for the playground. Now through noon on Sunday, September 27, people are encouraged to vote for the entry. The top 10 vote-getting entries will then go on to a final round.
One can log on to play.kiwanis.org/contestants/ hibbing-kiwanis-club, then provide your email address and use a code to vote. You can submit one vote every 24 hours per email address. The Hibbing Kiwanis Club encourages sharing the link with family, friends, and co-workers. Regardless of where you live, you can still support and vote for the project.
An inclusive playground is a universally designed, sensory-rich environment that enables children to develop physically, socially and emotionally. Current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards do not require elements designed for children with Down syndrome, sensory disorders, and visual and hearing impairments. An inclusive playground goes beyond minimum accessibility to create play experiences that meet a variety of needs and interests.
The current Greenhaven playground is adaptive but still has limitations, according to inclusive community playground project chair Linnea Walli. A ramp goes to a bridge that even children who do not use a wheelchair might have trouble crossing, and the accessible swing does not have a path to it. “It’s hard to play when you can’t even get to the playground,” Walli said.
The design and equipment for the new Greenhaven playground is by Landscape Structures, a Minnesota company that specializes in inclusive play equipment. The new playground would have smooth paths for wheelchairs and people of all walking abilities.
Other features will be an inclusive merrygo round with a ramp and spinning equipment that can help with sensory disorders (when the left and rights sides of the body don’t fully integrate). According to Linnea Walli, “A lot of people integrate through play when they don’t even know it.” A roller table is already in place at Greenhaven. Children use both sides of their body to drag themselves across a rolling surface.
Inclusive playgrounds have been built in Deer River and Hermantown, but Greenhaven’s would be unique on the Iron Range. “By giving a place where everyone can play together,” said Walli, “it bridges boundaries.”
Support and fundraising for the project got underway in 2019 and was going well until COVID-19 hit. “Play was not cancelled; it simply found a new way,” said Linnea Walli. “Play went virtual as in an aunt pretending to operate an ice cream shop with her niece over Facetime. Play was found in nature by fiddling with dirt and sticks. Play created new playmates in siblings, parents and caretakers. Play reminded us that kids are resilient, smart, honest—and that play looks different for different abilities.
“Quarantine gave us perspective,” she continued. “It showed us what we can do without, and yet play was not one of them. We learned that a playground is not required to create play, but a playground is a great canvas to create play that is inclusive.”
GPTO members regrouped in June, opting to scale back the project due to decreased grant opportunities as a result of COVID-19. The new design retains the initial goal while also reducing costs. As currently proposed, the playground is estimated to cost just shy of $222,000.
“We continue to move forward with this project so that our community will have a safe place to recreate and gather once again,” said Walli.
Hibbing Kiwanis Club is celebrating its 100th year and is proud to sponsor the Inclusive Community Playground-Hibbing entry.
“For more than a century, Kiwanis has created opportunities for children to be curious, safe and healthy regardless of the community in which they live,” said Kiwanian Kelly Grinsteinner. “We are generous with our time. We are creative with our ideas. We are passionate about making a difference. And we have fun along the way.”
The club is excited about the partnership and the potential impact on the Hibbing community. By working together, everyone achieves what one person cannot accomplish alone.
“When you give a child the chance to learn, experience, dream, grow, succeed and thrive, great things can happen,” added Grinsteinner. “Kiwanis is a positive influence in communities worldwide—so that one day, all children will wake up in communities that believe in them, nurture them and provide the support they need to thrive.”
Donations are welcome. Send checks made out to GTPO, memo “playground,” to Greenhaven Elementary School, Attn: GTPO, 323 E. 37th St., Hibbing MN 55746 or contribute online. Visit Inclusive Community Playground – Hibbing on Facebook for more information and to view the PayPal donation site.