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Donors rally for Charlotte preschoolers who were denied use of playground

Kids use playground thanks to mulch donation

Because of the mulch beneath their feet four and five year olds were able to swing on the swings, slide down the slide and generally romp to their hearts content on the new playground at The Learning Collaborative.
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Because of the mulch beneath their feet four and five year olds were able to swing on the swings, slide down the slide and generally romp to their hearts content on the new playground at The Learning Collaborative.

The plight of 64 Charlotte preschoolers denied use of their playground equipment has touched a nerve in a city still recovering from weeks of civil unrest.

Donors by the dozens have stepped up to solve the quandary, which is due to safety regulations that forbid children from using playground equipment unless it is buffered from below by six inches of special playground mulch.

The Learning Collaborative, a free preschool for low income families, didn’t have enough spare cash to cover the $1,100 to buy the mulch. So students were simply told not to touch the shiny new playground equipment that beckoned them from feet away.

That changed Wednesday, thanks to 50-plus donors who stepped up to either supply the mulch or donate money to buy it. The offers have come not just around the country, but even from as far away as South Africa, where a man claimed he heard of the school’s plight on the BBC.

In fact, so much help has been offered that the school is now able to expand the tiny playground from 26 square feet to four times that size. Most of that area was off limits to the children due to broken glass, rusted metals and other remnants of the site’s previous use as a strip shopping center.

Shannon McKnight, the school’s development director, believes the response resulted from a need for the community to heal itself after weeks of civil unrest. That unrest, including violent protests, followed a fatal Charlotte police shooting last month of Keith Lamont Scott. Many of the demonstrators chided city leaders for ignoring the needs of low-income families.

“I do think folks are a little fed up with bad news and racial divisiveness,” said McKnight, who admits being surprised at the response.

“I think people wanted to do something to help the community, but in a way they felt could make a real dent. We weren’t asking for $100,000. We just needed $1,100 worth of mulch, and people giving a few dollars can feel that goal is reachable. I had more than one (donor) tell me that really they felt like they could make a difference by helping.”

It also helped, she says, that the issue involved innocent 3- and 4-year-olds from some of Charlotte’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. Among those areas is Grier Heights in east Charlotte, where the school moved this summer.

Grier Heights is believed to be Charlotte’s oldest African-American neighborhood, founded as a farming community in 1886. Today, most of the homes are rentals, and about 40 percent of the residents are under age 18. The dropout rate among students is roughly two times the local average.

The Learning Collaborative relocated there believing it was a chance to be in direct contact with the parents it most seeks to reach. The nonprofit CrossRoads Corp, located in Grier Heights, negotiated with property owners to buy the 8,060-square-foot shopping center for a new home, and a community campaign raised more than $1.3 million to cover the purchase cost.

McKnight says the school didn’t expect to have playground equipment for a while because of the cost. But then United Way found a donor looking to relocate some playground equipment. Volunteers from Husqvarna moved the equipment to the school.

Husqvarna employees returned to the preschool this week to spread the donated mulch.

How to help

To offer financial help to The Learning Collaborative, contact Shannon McKnight at smcknight@tlccharlotte.org or call 704-377-8076, ext 210; or send donations to Shannon McKnight, Director of Development, The Learning Collaborative, 3241 Sam Drenan Road, Charlotte NC, 28205. To find out more, visit www.tlccharlotte.org.

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