If you need to solve a problem, ask a Girl Scout.
More specifically, ask the members of Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways’ Troop 10871 from Central Square, New York. When a local inclusive playground didn’t win a grant competition in August 2019, the 21-member troop decided to take on earning the funds themselves to better the park for their peers. Phase one of their improvements was unveiled in August 2021, and work on phase two is already underway.
Extraordinary Acres at Van Lieu Park in Hastings, New York, was completed in 2019 as a Silver Award project by Girl Scouts Rachael F., Molly G., Angilee H., and Sophie J. It was designed as an inclusive playground that enables children of all abilities to develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally and that includes features such as sensory-rich play spaces and transfer points that do not require an individual to leave their wheelchair.
“We idea-shared with the award team and the troop to identify a need in the community,” said Katie Haberer, a leader of Troop 10871. Her troop’s interest was sparked when they realized how many of them felt a need for a playground—"not just any playground but one everyone could visit regardless of ability.”
Through research and networking, the troop learned that the need for inclusive playgrounds wasn’t an issue that affected only their community; it’s something that play spaces lack worldwide. Their commitment to ensuring their community had this type of play space strengthened, and they began working on ways to earn funds for maintaining—and expanding—the playground.
Troop 10871 began their fundraising by volunteering at a local festival to handle recycling duties. When the opportunity to take over face-painting and spin art booths came along, the girls were trained and began running them. Both were donation-based. One festival expanded into two and then more. Soon they were hosting face-painting booths at food truck events, craft fairs, and even a local energy company’s employee safety day event.
“We are always donating our services for a good cause at local events run by other supporting community organizations,” said Haberer. “We continue to fine-tune fundraising strategies and are always raising the bar. We love to paint faces. The best part for us is the excitement on the kids’ faces when they are transformed into a work of art.”
Donations received at every event were saved for phase one of Troop 10871’s updates to Extraordinary Acres. Initially, updates for two phases were expected to cost around $82,000. Unfortunately, the pandemic spiked the cost of building materials, and phase one alone ended up costing $82,575. Those updates included an ACA-compliant sidewalk, a musical play area, a sensory panel, two adjustable basketball hoops, two portable soccer goals, two park benches, and a remembrance area for friends of the park who have passed away. The troop worked with city officials in the town of Hastings to ensure all their updates were compliant with park regulations. These additions were unveiled at a ceremony on August 8, 2021.
Of the funds needed for phase one, more than a third was raised by the troop. An additional $10,000 came from grants, and the rest was donated goods or services. Phase two fundraising is already underway and will allow the troop to add an inclusive swing set, an inclusive whirl with two wheelchair holders, pickleball, recycling bins, trash cans, and signage. Troop 10871, alongside their service unit, will also host annual Earth Day cleanups at the park.
Haberer says the most valuable lesson her troop has learned from this project is perseverance through teamwork. “Our troop will continue to champion this project through the vigilance and support of our adult volunteers.” She also cited the council support team, “sister Girl Scouts,” the town supervisor, and district, business, and community members. “We will continue to share our message of need for inclusion with others,” she said. “We will continue to use our resources wisely to make the world a better place to live.”
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