The Souders Elementary School PTO has raised $81,500 toward its $100,000 goal to construct an accessible, inclusive playground at the school, 4121 Miller-Paul Road in the Big Walnut School District.

Once constructed, the playground will be open to children of all communities outside school hours.

It will allow all children, regardless of their ability, to play together, said Amy Ranalli of the Souders PTO.

"Children with disabilities will receive the same developmental benefits of play as their peers. ... All children will enjoy the opportunity to exercise, which is essential to good health now and a lifetime of wellness," she said.

Souders Principal Matt Cox said the existing playground and its equipment will remain at the school.

"We have plenty of land here. We'll add onto what we currently have with the accessible equipment," he said.

"We see this not as a school district project or a Souders project, but a community project," he added. "We would absolutely love to have other students from our community and other communities come and be able to use this playground and its features."

Young children accept each other and overlook differences, Ranalli said.

"You never run into a thing where a young kid says, 'I won't play with you,' " she said. "When children are young, they don't categorize those differences."

The playground will help children grow up while continuing to accept and understand diversity, she added.

The fund drive has received an anonymous donation of $35,000. The donor provided $15,000 to the playground project at its inception last fall and pledged two additional $10,000 matches to the PTO's ongoing fundraising efforts.

The cost of commercial play structures can range between $30,000 and $500,000, and elements of an inclusive playground can cost as much as $10,000 each.

Rubber surfacing that makes a playground safe for everyone and accessible to those with mobility challenges is expensive, Ranalli said.

Accessible play structures could inclue some that are flexible, simple, low to the ground, require little physical effort to use, or other aspects that allow them to be used by those with all kinds of disabilities.

The fund-drive goal would allot about $50,000 for play equipment and $50,000 for surfacing.

"I have a wonderful group of parent supporters that are behind this project and really making it go," Cox said, "and they've just been relentless in the pursuit of getting this done, which has been fantastic."

As part of the fundraiser, the Souders PTO is selling engraved bricks and granite tiles, which will be used to build an outdoor seating area or pathway near the new playground.

Bricks and tiles are available in various sizes at multiple levels of giving and can be personalized with names, messages, clip art and logos.

The deadline to donate or buy a brick or tile is June 15.

"The Souders school family cannot achieve our fundraising goal and build this playground alone," Ranalli said. "We need the support of everyone, especially our local businesses, who are the most generous donors to our community. We not only want their names on this playground in a tangible way, but we also want their imprint on the promise that we all are committed to inclusion in every aspect of community life."

To learn more about the Souders Community Playground Project, purchase a customized brick or tile, or make a tax-deductible donation, visit ptosouders.com and click on the "Souders Playground Project" tab.

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