Iola Love

Jun 30, 2014

Iola, Kansas, Kiwanis playground build

A small Kansas town reveals its caring spirit with a (raindelayed) Kiwanis One Day gift to all its children.

Ambitious mothers. Inspired Kiwanians. And a big dream for a group of extraordinary kids. That’s what started a year ago when Kiwanian Mike Ford met Lesley Skahan.

Skahan leads a group called Mothers of Miracles in Iola, a town of 5,700 in southeast Kansas. Each mom in the group has a child with special needs.

Ford, who’s also a policeman and Iola’s community 
resource officer, was at the city council meeting where Skahan spoke about the Stroll & Roll, the MOMs group’s fundraiser in Riverside Park. Soon after, Ford got wind of a contest with Kiwanis International Vision Partner Landscape Structures, which would award a US$25,000 grant toward a new playground.

What if, he thought, we built a playground for kids with special needs?

“I got hold of Lesley, she got hold of the MOMs, 
and we pounded it all out. Twice,” he deadpans, quickly explaining how he lost the group’s first application on his computer.

Undaunted, the Kiwanians—with the MOMs’ help—spurred a viral Facebook voting campaign and won the Landscape Structures grant. 

But when the time came to choose equipment, 
the Kansans discovered that playgrounds cost more than they’d anticipated. “We knew we were going to need extra money,” Skahan says. 

Their desire to do more for the kids kick-started 
a yearlong fundraising partnership. Kiwanians and MOMs worked together on grants, a pancake feed, penny wars—literally dozens of fundraisers big and small. By April, they’d raised nearly US$190,000. 

Which brings us to Kiwanis One Day, April 5: 
the day the playground was scheduled to be built. 

On April 4, Ford received bad news: Drenching 
rains had caused the Neosho River to swell and ground water to seep up through holes drilled for the playground’s concrete posts. He made the call: Iola’s Kiwanis One Day playground build would be postponed. Still, Kiwanians and MOMs celebrated with a gathering at city hall and lunch at El Charro, a favorite Mexican restaurant on the town square. 

This past April 26, community volunteers gathered 
to build what is now the largest playground for kids of all abilities in southeast Kansas—and one of the most significant builds of its type for Landscape Structures. “This project has put Kiwanis in the light,” Ford says.

Awareness has been good for the MOMs and 
their families too, says Vickie Snavely, a physical therapist who works with four of the MOMs’ kids and who advised Kiwanians on the playground. “Everyone knows these moms,” she says, “The kids are like little superheroes.

In Iola, there’s an entire community of superheroes who, guided by Kiwanis leadership, have given every child a place to play. - Alyssa Chase