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Lions Club Playground Project Fundraising Efforts Continuing With ‘Stay At Home Treasure Hunt 2’



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Newtown Lions Club launched its latest fundraising efforts last year, after an impassioned letter to the editor called attention to the need for new or replacement playground equipment for children with special needs. Members of that local chapter will be conducting a coin collection event this month to continue those efforts.

Leah Mangino sent that letter to The Newtown Bee, asking readers to imagine a playground “where not everyone has something to do.”

In her letter, Leah explained that she has a younger brother who is among those who look for adapted, or inclusive, playground equipment when he goes out to play with family and friends.

Leah’s letter asked readers to consider what life is like for children who cannot use most of the equipment at Dickinson and Treadwell memorial parks. She also challenged readers to consider what it is like for parents of special needs children, especially if they are trying to watch over more than one child.

“If a parent has a child with special needs and an 8-year-old, like my mom does, she has to stay by the baby swings and not with her other kid,” Leah wrote in part. The swings for special needs children at Dickinson Park are near the baby swings.

“This means we can’t stay together,” she added.

Leah outlined equipment that she would like to see added to the town’s two public playgrounds.

Within days, Leah’s letter received a response from Sheila Gervais, who identified herself as a special needs monitor with All-Star Transportation. Gervais commended Leah for her “wonderful goal, of which we can all be part.”

The letter also attracted the attention of the local Lions Club. Leah’s grandfather, Walter Schweikert, who has long been an active member of the club, has stepped up to chair a committee devoted to fundraising for the replacement or addition of such equipment to the parks.

In addition to Schweikert, Playground Project Committee members include Steve Bennett, Andrew Iorio, Neil Randle, Skip Sims, and Gordon Williams. Katelyn Zaniewski is representing Newtown Leos on the committee, and resident Jen Rogers is serving as a special advisor to the committee.

Newtown Parks & Recreation Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson, according to Randle, “is providing expert advice and important support on accessibility, design, and implementation at the park.”

Schweikert recently shared that since the formal kickoff of fundraising in May 2020, “and despite the constraints to fundraising activities imposed by COVID-19, the generosity of the people of Newtown has already raised close to $20,000.

“However, there is still a long way to go,” he noted.

The Lions estimate that more than $60,000 is needed for equipment and installation at Dickinson Park alone.

Randle told The Newtown Bee last week that in addition to the localized fundraising efforts, the committee has applied “for a number of grants from a variety of sources.”

Committee Meeting

Despite not yet having the full funds for their project, the Lions are looking at different pieces of play equipment that will fill the need when that time arrives.

The Playground Project Committee met on April 8 at Dickinson Park. They were joined by representatives from Newtown Parks & Recreation Department, and a representative of M.E. O’Brien & Sons Inc, a Medway, Mass.-based distributor of playground equipment.

“The purpose of the meeting,” Schweikert said via e-mail the following day, “was to get technical input and siting recommendations from the distributor. This was our first opportunity to get the entire team, including Parks & Rec, together.”

While the committee has not yet contracted with M.E. O’Brien, Schweikert said on April 9 that “we were impressed with the functionality and durability of their playground units.”

The company, he pointed out, is the same one that outfitted the playground at Treadwell Park in Sandy Hook two decades ago.

The Lions have four criteria they are considering for the new equipment: accessibility, inclusiveness, motion, and durability.

“For accessibility, we were looking for units that could be used by a wheelchair user without requiring a transfer out of the wheelchair,” Schweikert explained. If a transfer is needed, the committee wants it to be as easy as possible, he added.

“For inclusiveness, we were looking for units that could be used by both able-bodied children and those with physical challenges, separately or together,” he said. “We were looking for motion-oriented units because we wanted every child, regardless of physical ability, to enjoy physical activity. Too often, wheelchair-bound children can only use passive equipment because nothing else is available.”

Durability is a major factor, he also said.

“Inclusive playground equipment is costly. We want something that will remain functional for a very long time and with low maintenance cost,” the committee chair said.

Stay At Home Treasure Hunt 2

In December, the club hosted a Stay At Home Treasure Hunt. The public was asked to dig up any loose change they had at home, and then drop off that change during a collection event. The Lions were at Newtown Congregational Church on Saturday, December 12, welcoming donations of all sizes.

In exchange for sharing their coins, children who donated to the effort that weekend were thanked with gold-wrapped chocolate coins.

That first effort resulted in approximately $1,100 being added to the playground fund.

The Lions are now planning their second Stay at Home Treasure Hunt.

On Saturday, April 24, adult club members will be joined by some of their younger counterparts — the Newtown High School Leos — to receive donations again. This time, the group will be set up in front of Newtown Middle School, 11 Queen Street.

As with the December event, donations on April 24 will be done through no-contact collection consistent with social distancing and other regulations still “upon us in these unusual times of COVID-19,” Schweikert said.

Donations should be put inside a zip-top plastic bag. Children making donations will again be thanked with gold-wrapped chocolate coins.

For those unable to attend Stay At Home Treasure Hunt 2, donations can be made through the club’s website (newtownlions.org, click on the Swing Into Action photo or notes). Donations can also be sent to Newtown Lions Club, PO Box 218, Newtown CT 06470. Checks should be made to the club, with Playground Fund noted on the memo line.

Members of Newtown Lions Club’s Playground Project Committee met at Dickinson Park on April 8, when they were able to pick up technical input and siting recommendations from a distributor. From left are Brian Iafolla from M.E. O’Brien & Sons, Inc; committee chair Walt Schweikert; Lions Club and committee members Skip Sims and Neil Randle; Playground Project Committee special advisor Jen Rogers; Lions Club and committee member Gordon Williams; and Parks & Recreation Assistant Director of Parks Carl Samuelson (partially hidden) and Director Amy Mangold. —Kevin Corey photo
Newtown Lions Club members/pirates for a day Walt Schweikert, left, and Neil Randle thanked children who made donations during the club’s first playground fundraising day in December with gold-wrapped chocolate coins. The club is planning its second Stay At Home Treasure Hunt, which will continue efforts to update or install playground equipment for children with special needs. —Bee file photo
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