WEST POINT – Lori Bates was a student at West Point Elementary School. It has been a while: she goes back now with her granddaughter. But she still proclaims herself a "Warrior at heart."
While attending a party at the West Point playground earlier this year, Bates noticed a lot of familiar sights, especially some of the playground equipment.
"Those are things that were there when I was there," she recalled.
The playground, which serves both the elementary and middle schools (approximately 750 kids per weekday) and functions as a city park on weekends, is suffering the effects of time. Many pieces of equipment, including monkey bars, seesaws and swing sets, are more than 30 years old. The seesaw planks and crosstie boundary beams are dry and splintered. Metal is rusted, and ground cover under the equipment is in poor condition. The outdated facility also lacks access and activities for children with special needs.
Bates was determined that something should be done.
She talked to school administrators and found that resources are limited, both in the school and community. Teachers at the elementary school have to provide many of their own classroom supplies, and 62 percent of the students receive free or reduced-cost lunches.
Bates was undeterred; she and friend Carol Waters began searching for new ideas and people who could make them a reality. They contacted Kaboom!, a national nonprofit organization working to promote active play as a daily part of children's lives, and Playscapes playground equipment company. They also began looking for money.
And this project will take money.
The total wish list of improvements will cost more than $130,000. That includes climbing equipment and swings, a zipline style ride and sit-on spinner, a set of outdoor musical instruments, benches and picnic tables and safety surfacing. The completed playground will also be fully accessible and will feature activities for those with special needs.
Bates has written several grant applications, and has received commitments of support from numerous sources, including the West Point Town Council, SCA Community and the Hayek Family Foundation. Others who have stepped up to help include Webb Wheel, Alfa Insurance (agent Talisa Shikle), Fillinger Foot Clinic, Wal-Mart, Surgical Arts PC, Surgical Care Affiliates and the Surgery Center of Cullman (of which Bates is the administrator).
To date, more $19,000 has been raised. Bates is working on more grants, and has fundraisers in the works like the upcoming Lil’ Warriors Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk on Thanksgiving Day at West Point Middle School. She is also encouraging other West Point alumni to step up, noting that even small donations can add up. And it's not just about money: Kaboom! projects require schools and communities to provide volunteers to help with construction.
Bates observed, "Not everyone can give money, but everyone can be involved."
She hopes to see construction underway by March, and would like for kids to see the finished playground before the end of this school year. Both the schedule and the budget are tall orders, but the project's supporters are committed to seeing it through.
Bates repeated a motto that is popular with the company for which she works, "When you pray, move your feet."
Information about the project and opportunities to contribute can be found on the project Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WPESplaygroundproject/.
For more information on the Turkey Trot, see http://qrne.ws/turkeytrot.
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