UNION TOWNSHIP, Ohio — A large, fenced in patch of grass sits next to the Carter Center for Educational Excellence in Eastgate, and 5-year-old Carter Luttmer knows just what's missing.
"Swings!" Carter said, flailing his arms in the air. "Like a fast rollercoaster. The water slide can be right in there so it cannot be hot."
Luttmer is one of 115 young people at that school, which is overseen by Child Focus, Inc., a private non-profit organization that serves 20,000 children and families in Southwest Ohio annually.
The Carter Center, which moved into the former Glen Este High School location in 2019, helps children who have unique learning needs, including mobility issues, learning issues, sensory and balance issues.
"It's important to help develop children to their fullest potential," said President and CEO Pamela Lindeman.
Part of that development happens outside of the classroom. That's why the organization is raising money to build two inclusive playgrounds on its premises; one for children who are 3 to 5 years old, and another one for children who are 6 to 12 years old.
"It's going to be so fun," Luttmer said.
Not only fun, but more accessible for children who have mobility issues or are on wheelchairs.
"We will have some inclusive playground equipment including swings that can provide play opportunities for children in wheelchairs," Lindeman said. "We need a variety of activity centers that include natural materials for digging, exploring."
But inclusive equipment is expensive, and most of the cost associated with the playgrounds is due to the smooth surfacing for children who struggle with mobility and balance.
"If you have even a grassy area or mulch, kids aren't capable of moving through there," Lindeman said. "So, the poured surfacing and the playground equipment, you're looking at well over $100,000 for the playground."
Their goal is to reach $150,000, which would pay for the swings Luttmer wants, open-concept slides, a bike and walking path, climbing and balancing equipment, wheelchair ramps, four square, and space to play kickball and basketball. It would be made out of recycled materials.
"People need to understand that play is the work of children," Lindeman said. "That is how they learn, that is how they interact. They learn their social skills. It's how they develop large and fine motor development. All of those things are absolutely critical to their ability to grow into healthy, young people."
With the start of the New Year came the start of this fundraiser. So far, they have raised about $50,000. The campaign runs through the end of March, in the hopes to build the playground during the Spring, to have it ready for the following school year.
"We also offer summertime programming," Lindeman said. "We do camps for kids who need continuity of care. So once the regular school-year ends, summer camps begin so it'll be utilized all year around."
Where to Donate
As a private nonprofit, 85 percent of funding goes directly to Child Focus's services. That's why the organization is asking for help. You can donate on their Facebook page, through their website, or by calling them at 513-752-1555.
"We don't get funding or have deep coffers for capital campaigns or capital needs in a playground," Lindeman said. "Even though it's an absolute essential element for child wellness, we don't get funding to build playgrounds."