EXCELebration Park, an upcoming infant/toddler playground at Hinton Park in Petal, is one more step closer to its financial goal of $400,000, with the help of the recent Great American Duck Derby fundraiser that brought in $22,100 for the project.
With those funds, officials now have a total of $63,000 to go toward the playground, which is designed to supplement the existing play areas for older children at the park. In addition, renderings have been completed for EXCELebration Park, a collaboration between Petal Excel By 5, the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, the Petal Education Foundation and the Coleman Center for Families and Children.
“We have nickled and dimed it to death, through donations and (the derby),” said Leahne Lightsey, executive director of the Petal Education Foundation. “We’re getting warmer and warmer, but we’re still cold.
“We have a few organizations that we’re going to appeal to … for several grants. We’re chugging along, and we’re hoping we’ll get good results from the grants that we will submit here in a couple of weeks.”
Helping matters even more is a recent $500 donation that was recently made in memory of a Petal resident.
“So that made our day,” Lightsey said. “That’s marvelous in my world.”
Talks for EXCELebration Park began about two years ago, when officials from the aforementioned organizations met to discuss additional options for younger children. Back in May, the Petal Board of Aldermen voted to adopt a Memorandum of Understanding with Petal Excel By 5 for the playground, which officials hope to include within the next year and a half.
“Imagine that you’re a mom or a dad, and you have a 6- or 7-year old playing out there, but you also have an 18-month-old child,” said Mary Cirino, who serves as coordinator for Parents as Teachers at the Coleman Center. “Where are you going to allow your 18-month-old child to play?
“At my work at the center, I work with a lot of (children under the age of 3), and the moms love the park, but there’s no place for a young child to play. The current playground is for (ages) 5 to 12, and it’s not appropriate for smaller children. It’s a beautiful park, and there’s lots of ways to engage your 5 to 12 year old, but not your children under 5.”
The playground equipment will be suitable for children from six months to five years old, including a Smart Play Nook that offers 28 different activities for children 6-23 months. The Nook is designed to prompt adult-child conversations regarding key developmental domains, including literacy, math, science, nature, social-emotional development, nutrition and physical activity.
The Nook is sized for crawlers and early walkers and includes a picket fence for children to hold onto, along with bright colors appealing to that age group.
The second key piece of equipment to be installed at the playground is the Smart Play Loft, which is aimed at children two to five years old. It includes 20 interactive activities that address developmentally-appropriate skills, including a shapes panel, image panel, steps, alphabet panel, lower level clubhouse and crawl tunnel.
Also included at the playground will be three different types of swings – including one molded bucket seat, one infant swing and one ‘Family Friendship’ swing – along with soft, grass-style turf and foam flooring that resembles a stream running through the middle of the site. Children also will be able to play on a large-scale caterpillar that is suitable for climbing on or crawling under.
Plans for EXCELebration Park also include a shade structure and a fence that will surround the area for safety measures.
“That way, when parents bring their children, they can feel safe with their children,” Lightsey said. “They’re not going to run out of that particular area for infants and toddlers. You know how toddlers like to take off.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the playground can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsors for the Great American Duck Derby are Steven Kelly-Alfa Insurance (the $2,000 prize), Carter's Jewelry (the $1,000 prize) and Mark Graham Executive Realty (the $500 prize).