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Little Rock’s Faith United Methodist Church successfully raises more than $100,000 to build an inclusive playground for children of all abilities

by Frank E. Lockwood | December 17, 2022 at 4:17 a.m.
On Friday, Dec 9, 2022, Diana Smith, with her husband, Lonnie Smith standing behind her, sits on one of the swings at a new inclusive playground at Faith United Methodist Church on W. Markham Street in Little Rock. The new playground, which was dedicated on Dec. 9, was given by the congregation to the community in memory of Smith's aunt, Rebecca Lay.

Little Rock's Faith United Methodist Church is "an elderly little congregation" with a big heart for children, Diana Smith says.

Despite having average attendance of only 35 to 40 people, the church successfully raised more than $100,000 to build an inclusive playground for children of all abilities.

On Dec. 9, members of the congregation dedicated the play area on West Markham Street.

It replaces a decades-old playground that had fallen into disrepair.

The new play area is "a wonderful gift to this community and to the people of this neighborhood," Bishop Gary Mueller said, predicting it would be "a place where life can be celebrated."

It is given, a sign will note, "in cherished memory of Rebecca Lay," Smith's aunt and a faithful member who served on the playground fundraising committee.

Lay died on Dec. 11, 2020, one day after her 73rd birthday.

"She was a big contributor and worked tirelessly," said Gary Horton, the committee chairman.

Smith says her aunt was enthusiastic about the project and recruited friends and family members to help with the fundraisers.

"Anything she did, she gave 100% and she was going to drag you behind," she said. "I came to work the pumpkin patches, I flipped pancakes, made spaghetti."

Launched in 2018, the project has required persistence.

"Covid hit and slowed us down but we got it done," Horton said. "It's been a long process. We wanted to make sure we got this 100% paid for so it took awhile."

Grants from the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas and the Central District of the United Methodist Church Arkansas Conference provided an extra fundraising boost.

The equipment is already installed and ready to be used. A fence will be added in a few weeks, Horton said.

Rather than concrete or asphalt, the ground covering is soft and cushiony. The new playground is designed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"A lot of kids who have disabilities can't participate in a lot of the playgrounds because there's barriers, the equipment is not safe, it's not designed for them," Horton said. "What we want is a playground that kids with disabilities and kids that don't have disabilities can interact together [and] be able to socialize."

The congregation hopes the playground will be a blessing for the entire area.

"We don't have many kids in our church. This was not built for our church family. It was built for the community. We want everybody to use it," Horton said.

Smith, a native of Arkansas who now lives in Texas, drove north to attend the dedication and to see her aunt's dream come to fruition.

"I'm just very proud. I'm happy," she said. "This is going to be a light for the community and it shows little people can do big things."

Print Headline: Methodists build inclusive playground


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