Outlook

Kaleidoscope playground is reflection of community

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kaleidoscope

The playground in St. Cloud’s Wilson Park opened in June. With wheelchair-height entry sites and varied elevation transfer spots to accommodate youngsters with physical limitations, the regional playground will include rather than exclude those who want to play.

Since 2001 more than 600 SCSU students have had a role in bringing St. Cloud’s colorful, expansive Kaleidoscope playground to life as a unique, accessible play space for children of all physical abilities.

As Community Studies Professor Rona Karasik put it, "Kaleidoscope is a playground for everybody. If kids of differing abilities play together and become comfortable, they don’t see the differences among them as much."

While the region’s children benefit from the unusual playground, the SCSU students who’ve worked on researching, planning, fundraising and gathering support for the facility also have benefited from their experience.

"I learned that when a group of people put their minds together to do something, they can get it done," said senior Chrissy Halonen, a business management major from Kimball who got involved with the playground project when she took Karasik’s "Community and Democratic Citizenship" course in 2004.

Halonen, who operates the National Karate School in St. Cloud, is still volunteering for the Kaleidoscope project three years after organizing a fundraiser at Wilson Park that helped raise nearly $1,800 in one day. Some of her 150 karate students provided demonstrations at the ribbon cutting for the playground in June.

The car washes, spaghetti lunches and other fundraising activities students of community studies professors Karasik, Phyllis Greenberg and Pamela Mittlefehldt have organized to benefit the playground represent just one aspect of involvement in the playground. Faculty members and students have been key players in project development, including building partnerships with sponsors that include the East Side Boosters and St. Cloud Parks and Recreation Board.

Students also established the site for the playground at Wilson Regional Park, named the playground Kaleidoscope, assessed community interest, addressed community and municipal meetings to promote it, and carried out grant writing and a permanent donor board to honor contributors.

Along the way students have learned some of the most valuable lessons about communities that "service-learning" projects offer, according to Karasik. They’ve observed first-hand the diverse needs of community residents and the challenges and rewards of organizing to meet those needs. They’ve gained networking skills and a realistic look at social and other challenges communities face. They’ve also experienced some of the good feelings that come with making a difference.

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