Earlhamites' senior project results in funding, vision for first-of-its-kind Richmond playground | Earlham College Skip to Content
“Playground With A Purpose,” a project by seniors Caleb Smith, Peniel Ibe, Truman McGee, Rachel Logan-Wood and George Lowring, will expand the recreational opportunities available to children with special needs.

Earlhamites' senior project results in funding, vision for first-of-its-kind Richmond playground

April 24, 2017

A team of Environmental Studies majors at Earlham is bringing their vision to life for a first-of-its-kind playground for Wayne County youth.

“Playground With A Purpose,” a project by seniors Caleb Smith, Peniel Ibe, Truman McGee, Rachel Logan-Wood and George Lowring, will expand the recreational opportunities available to children with special needs.

“We have met with so many people in the community who have told us that there is a clear need for a project of this magnitude,” says Caleb Smith ’17. “This has been the culmination of everything I have learned at Earlham. From making presentations, to utilizing knowledge from my science and economics classes, to bringing people together to accomplish a shared goal, this has been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Playground 4In partnership with Richmond’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the students will break ground on the sensory playground on May 5 at Clear Creek Park, the day before the team earns their undergraduate degrees. Fundraising for the $250,000 project will continue into the summer and fall as the playground is built over three phases, culminating with a grand opening ceremony in October.

YOU CAN HELP: To contribute to Playground With a Purpose, e-mail the students at playgroundwithapurpose@gmail.com or call Parks Superintendent Denise Retz at (765) 983-7276. All donations are tax-deductible.

The playground will feature traditional playground equipment like swings and slides along with movable sensory panels and dome-like structures for children seeking a break from play. The playground will also be fenced to promote children’s safety.

“We have spent a lot of time researching effective designs for sensory playgrounds,” Logan-Wood says. “Inclusivity is very important to us. It’s just not for kids with autism or sensory disabilities; it’s for all children including those with motor disabilities or other physical disabilities.” 

Playground 3The project launched last September after the team considered community-based projects that could fulfill the requirements of the Environmental Studies Capstone project. Richmond Parks Superintendent Denise Retz offered them an attraction option.

“This was important to me as a potential project because we do have this need within our community that we have not met as a parks system,” Retz says. “We have given them a lot of free reign to do what they like in design and fundraising and all aspects of the project. They’re doing a wonderful job.”

The team has already raised nearly $40,000 from community organizations, including a $20,000 matching gift from the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office, and is awaiting the results of a grant-writing campaign to see how much additional fundraising might be necessary.

“We’re constantly making presentations to entrepreneurs and philanthropists to raise awareness about what we’re doing,” McGee says. “A community project isn’t really a community project until everyone in the community is involved.”

This community-based initiative is yet another example of the kinds of projects that are encouraged by a major initiative called EPIC, which enables students to work on real projects with real consequences at a local, regional and global level.

“This is much more than just a playground,” says Jay Roberts, Earlham associate vice president of academic affairs. “These students are developing 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.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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