Fort Mill Elementary School goes girl powered
For a group all about bringing people together, Lori Christison’s team is getting close.
All Play Together recently blasted out a message to supporters that the inclusive playground group is within $40,000 of its target. It’s still the cost of a nice, new minivan ahead of them. Yet having already raised more than $410,000 from donations, All Play Together feels the end is near.
“It absolutely is,” Christison said. “I can’t wait for the goal to be accomplished. We’re very excited and look forward to the day we meet our goal.”
All Play Together began as a group of Fort Mill area families looking for options where children, grandparents or anyone else with special needs or mobility concerns could play. There weren’t many. The group started asking elected leaders how they could get a park with features like gated play, ramps instead of steps, smooth surfaces, accessible swings.
Christison, a speech pathologist, led the effort that started back in 2016 with plans to add onto the coming Waterside Park, now Banks Athletic Park. Land problems there caused All Play Together to look elsewhere before settling on Trailhead Park in Tega Cay.
What hasn’t changed is All Play Together’s commitment to raising they money needed for a park.
“It’s been very much a grassroots effort,” Christison said. “Tega Cay, Fort Mill and surrounding areas, grants have come from some of the banks in the area.”
The group hasn’t done it alone.
“There have been significant donations, but we wouldn’t be where we are without the support of the community,” Christison said. “Both large and small donors. It has taken a combined effort. The community has been very good to us.”
Countless businesses held fundraisers. Large donors like Daimler, Coca-Cola of Rock Hill, Ronald McDonald House Charities helped. The Fort Mill school district was integral to the effort.
“Their combined contribution has been fairly significant at about $20,000,” Christison said. “That has come from the faculty, the students. That’s not from the school district. That’s from the students and teachers. That kind of tells you that I think the community recognizes the need for the playground.”
A guitar player donated more than $1,000 in tips. A girl with a nonprofit selling t-shirts gave almost $800. Numerous children held their own fundraisers and donated proceeds.
“Without people like that going out of their way, it wouldn’t be happening,” Christison said. “It’s everybody. And it’s very heartwarming.”
While money remains to be raised, the group is close enough to start imagining.
Charlie Funderburk, city manager in Tega Cay, said in coming weeks his city will apply for a state parks and recreation grant for the project.
“If the outcome of that is favorable, there shouldn’t be any reason why we aren’t able to break ground in late fall and finish up before the winter,” Funderburk said.
Finalizing funding could push the project back to next spring.
“The timing will really be dictated by whether we are awarded the funds and when we are awarded,” Funderburk said.
Whenever the park opens, Funderburk said it will be a milestone for a deserving group.
“They are a fun and energetic group to work with and they have done a tremendous job thus far,” he said.
Inclusive play areas are growing in popularity, as communities see the impact they can have on quality of life. Rock Hill recently won the title of All-America City. Rock Hill is one of 10 communities nationwide to win it. One major reason given by the judges who picked Rock Hill is Miracle Park, the planned ballfields designed for players with special needs.
The All Play Together project is an asset, leaders say, for Tega Cay which last fall earned a spot on the USA Today and 24/7 Wall Street list of top 50 best cities to live in nationwide. All Play Together worked with a local playground equipment company manager to design features.
Christison’s group continues working toward the park. They continue fundraising. They continue the dream of a place where everyone, of all ability levels, can play alongside one another.
“I can’t wait to see the finished product and see everyone playing together,” Christison said. “That’s been our goal all along. It will be a very sweet day.”