Early Risers awarded $25,000 grant for All-Inclusive Chautauqua park playground

WORTHINGTON – With over 2,400 votes, the Early Risers Kiwanis of Worthington and their plan for an All-Inclusive playground at Chautauqua Park has won a $25,000 grant through the Legacy of Play 2020 Contest!

They aren’t kidding about being early risers – the club met at 7 a.m. at the YMCA to thank local media, the city of Worthington and the Worthington Regional Heath Care Foundation for their support of a playground that all children and adults will be able to enjoy.

During the meeting, a phone call from Brady at Landscape Structures put the cap on an announcement only a few people knew – that the Worthington group had won the grant.

Loreena Luetgers held a mic to her phone for the announcement, while Paulette Sjogren whipped out a sign, declaring the winner. After the few seconds that it took for the words to sink in, the Kiwanis group and their guests cheered with excitement.

“The small town of Worthington – we got it!” Sjogren yelled out as applause filled the room.

Before the phone call, the Early Risers took the time to thank some people for their help. Worthington Public Works Director Todd Weitzema referred to the Kiwanians as “the hardest working group” he has ever met.

“They said it would take about 2-3 years for you to raise the funds,” Weitzema stated. “And you did it in what?”

“Less than six months,” Luetgers replied.

Jeff Rotert from the Worthington Regional Healthcare Foundation was on hand to be thanked by the group.

“The foundation gave us a $125,000 matching grant,” Luetgers said. “To my understanding, it is the biggest grant they have ever awarded.”

Early Risers Treasurer Clair Williams said the process to apply for the Legacy of Play grant was not easy, and the contest had been cancelled at one point due to COVID. But when it opened back up, the organization was excited to try again.

“It really brought the community together,” Williams said. “I’d see people in the street and they were happy to tell me they had voted. There were people talking to people, reminding each other to vote.”

To win the grant, the All-Inclusive park at Chautauqua had to be in the top 10 by the end of the voting period. They ended up in the seventh position, and that was enough for it to be part of the Legacy of Play committee discussion.

Williams said there is still money to be raised, but the $25,000 is what he calls a ‘game-changer.”

Construction on the playground is slated to begin in the spring.

Fundraising will continue, and anyone who would like to purchase a $75 picket for the fence can do so by contacting one of the Early Risers. Find out more on their Facebook page facebook.com/earlyrisers.kiwanis.

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