It all started when a little girl was going to school in the fall.
The community of Youngstown and surrounding areas have pitched in on the matching Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) grant which will allow five-year-old Brooklyn Laughlin to attend school but also enjoy a brand new outdoor playground designed to be inclusive of everyone’s needs.
The CFEP grant’s successful applications will not be announced until May.
This will make or break the project but the committee is optimistic it will go through due to the nature of the situation, how much money was raised so quickly and the beneficial impact it will have on the village and area.
Laughlin was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.
According to her mother Natalia, she has reached an age where she is wanting to become more independent as the days go on so when the playground is installed adjacent to the current one, it is set to allow her and anyone else with extra difficulties to be able to play without worry or restrictions.
“It does make it harder,” began Natalia. “For example a few years ago my older boys did Taekwon-do at the school and so we would play here [at the playground] but it was a lot of work because I would have to carry her here and carry her there. S
“he couldn’t do it on her own so then she is missing out on all the developmental side of playgrounds because she is not independent, not building the muscles she does have and not developing those cognitive abilities that playgrounds provide.”
If all goes according to plan, the playground will be ready for use by the start of the 2021-2022 school year in the fall.
Natalia and Kindergarten teacher/Aunt Haley Powell both sit on the Friends of the Youngstown School Society where a subsequent committee was made to pursue this inclusivity project.
“She’s our ‘why’,” said Powell. “This one student coming into Kindergarten is our ‘why’ and our ‘hurry’ but I think as we have been doing the grant applications we’ve been realizing how this is going to be a benefit to toddlers and grandparents and just a welcoming place for anybody.”
The committee was able to raise $125,000 within three months beginning in December with the bulk of the funding going towards the recycled tire rubber padding replacing the gravel, while the rest will be for playground equipment.
Volunteers have agreed to help install the structures when it is time.
A little cash is left to drum up (approximately $7,000) to be fully funded but the initial $125,000 hurdle was crossed when a donation from the Youngstown Recreation Board provided over $10,000 at the beginning of March.
The Stringer Foundation was instrumental in getting the ball rolling financially as the committee was able to put a downpayment on the equipment right away.
Community groups and individual families stretching far around the village have supported the initiative.
“We really do live in a great community,” said Natalia. “Anytime there is any type of project in our community everyone just seems to jump in and want to help and be a part of it.”