All children should have access to safe places to play, burn off excess energy and let their imaginations run free, according to Jane Mosser, mother of a fourth-grade student at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva.
“Children need the opportunity to get a little bit of exercise in the middle of the day just to get through the rest of the day. Every school needs a playground,” she said.
St. Francis-St. Stephen School’s outdated playground was torn down in the middle of the 2005-06 school year, and since then Mosser and a group of fellow parents have been working to raise money to erect another playground at the site through their A Playground For Our Children campaign. Mosser and the rest of the school community celebrated a victory Sept. 7, when representatives of First Niagara Bank Foundation presented a $5,000 check to the school.
“We were really thrilled to be able to open the school year with such a nice donation for the playground,”said Mosser, chairperson of the fundraising committee. “We’re very excited, and it’s a great motivator to make some progress.”
The donation from First Niagara Bank Foundation brings the total amount raised thus far to approximately $37,000, Mosser said. This total includes money raised through bake sales and other school fundraisers held during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years and a $20,000 donation received last spring from the J.M. McDonald Foundation, which was founded in 1952 and supports charities in upstate New York.
The committee eventually hopes to raise $80,000 to cover the purchase and installation of the new playground equipment from Parkitects Inc. and the RecGrass artificial-turf safety surfacing beneath it, Mosser said. In order to raise the money in a timely fashion, Playground For Our Children committee members decided last year to continue raising money through school events while at the same time looking to outside companies, organizations and foundations, such as First Niagara Bank Foundation, for larger donations, she said.
“We always look for opportunities to support our community. When St. Francis-St. Stephen School approached us to help with the playground project, we thought it was a worthwhile project to support,” said Kelly Mittiga, first vice president and regional manager for First Niagara.
One of the factors that made the project so appealing to the foundation was its community focus, Mittiga said. Indeed, the new playground will not just be for the exclusive enjoyment of St. Francis-St. Stephen students, Mosser noted.
“We aren’t just building a playground for the school. It’s not going to have a fence around it, so it will be available to anyone who wants to play,” she said. “The school and church are interested in having a responsible and supportive presence in the community.”
The new playground will be located on the site of the former playground behind the school building and will be easily accessible from High Street or Elmwood Avenue, Mosser said. There also will be lighting near the playground so it can be used in the evening, and the committee is exploring the possibility of installing solar panels to generate that lighting, she said.
The playground has an open-air design so the children using it may be easily supervised, she added. The old playground did not have such a design and thus offered hiding places, and before it was removed two years ago it had occasionally been used for nonplay purposes, much to the chagrin of the school community, Mosser said.
“We specifically wanted it to be an open-air design so it would not provide opportunities for activities that wouldn’t be healthy for the kids. Everyone on the playground can be seen from the school … and from the street,” she said.
The playground includes 16 different play components, including a curved balance beam, firepole, wiggle ladder, clatter bridge, loop-arch climber, corkscrew climber, rubber bridge belt and three slides. It also includes six activities that will be accessible to children with disabilities, which is exciting, Mosser said, because it invites a wider group of people to use the playground.
“A number of the play activities that we selected were recommended to us by our physical-education teacher at the school. Not only will it be fun, but it’s a well-balanced group of activities,” Mosser said, noting that there also will be open space around the playground for children to engage in other types of play.
The removal of the old St. Francis-St. Stephen School playground left a void for children in the neighborhood, which bridges downtown Geneva with the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Mosser said. The City of Geneva and its young people in particular have faced their share of challenges lately — including a murder over the summer — and Mosser hopes the playground will improve the quality of life for Geneva’s children.
“A playground will not solve all the social problems of any community, but I do think it is a step in the right direction to offer a healthy, safe, constructive alternative to children to help them exercise their bodies and clear out their minds,” she said.
A playground can enhance the community around it and serve the larger population, Mosser and Mittiga agreed.
“It doesn’t just benefit the kids at the school, but also the community as a whole. It’s definitely an area that is lacking a playground,” Mittiga said. “Obviously these kids need a playground, and we hope that this contribution will spur other businesses in the community to also participate.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To make a tax-deductible donation to A Playground For Our Kids, contact Jane Mosser through St. Francis-St. Stephen School at 315-789-1828, or send a donation to the school at 17 Elmwood Ave., Geneva, NY 14456. Please note in the memo line that the donation is for the playground fund.