Legacy of Play contest

Contest entry should tell a story of need

Wilbur Neushwander-Fink turned to her strength when she prepared her club's entry for the 2017 Legacy of Play contest. She’s a playwright and writes stories for a living, so she turned her club’s entry into the story of a fourth-grade girl who would get to use a playground developed for children of all abilities.  

If your Kiwanis club doesn't have a playwright to help with your contest entry, turn to your strengths — advocating for children.

  • Familiarize yourself with the Facebook contest.
  • Define your message.
  • Identify community partners and ask them to help.
  • Engage club members and other volunteers to share messages on social media and to encourage the daily voting.
  • Change your social media photos and messages to increase reach. Use photos of children playing together.
  • Know what motivates your community to participate.
  • Use local media to help spread the word and encourage online voting.
  • Make it part of your day to vote.
  • Keep sharing the enthusiasm with your club members.

“All my life I’ve been an advocate for people with disabilities, and access is important to me,” Neushwander-Fink said. “Here we had the opportunity to bring an inclusive playground to Mankato and I just got very involved in that.”

Known as the Fallenstein Playground to honor donors, the playground won the 2017 Legacy of Play contest and US$25,000 in playground equipment from Kiwanis International partner Landscape Structures Inc.  

And 2017 was the second time the club submitted a contest entry.

“We entered in 2016 and didn’t win,” she said. “We did win a piece of equipment for the playground, and it was good of Landscape Structures to give us that. … It helped. But we learned a lot and in 2017 the club president asked me to try again. I learned from that first entry that I basically wrote a dry story about how we didn’t have a playground and we wanted to build a playground. Well, people aren’t so much interested in that dry info. So, I thought I’d write a story.”

Neushwander-Fink said she decided to write the entry from the viewpoint of a child who would be able to play on the playground and what an inclusive playground would mean to her. The young girl, named Madison, agreed and the plan was hatched. Telling the story through Madion's eyes allowed the judges to realize how the playground would benefit a real person who did not have a place to play with her friends.

With the help of her Kiwanis club and local partners, Neushwander-Fink and club President Shannon Sinning worked their networks. They enlisted groups on Facebook with similar interests to participate in the voting. They created fliers explaining how to vote and shared those with their network.

“We had to give lots of reminders, and we did that. And over the Memorial Day weekend, we decided it was our final chance — we weren’t in the top 10 — and we asked all groups to continue to vote. By Tuesday, when we were all back from the holiday weekend, we had moved up from 14th to fourth place. It was a huge effort on the part of a lot of people. It was a really wonderful thing that people did for us.” The contest ended the next day, and with the extra push, the Mankato entry received 3,061 votes.  

Neushwander-Fink said her club did not advertise in traditional media such as a newspaper; instead, the club focused on Facebook. Because the contest was on Facebook, it was easy to reach out to other groups — such as moms clubs and multiple community groups — and encourage them to click over to the voting site to cast their vote for Mankato.  

“We focused on groups in the community with large followings on Facebook that would have an interest in a playground — who would not want a playground,” she said. “The thing that clicked is that it was for people of all abilities, all ages, not just children. And that captured people’s attention. For a contest on Facebook, you have to meet the people where they are, and they’re on Facebook.”

She said the contest is easy to participate in, even if someone is not an active Facebook user. She uses Facebook and knows her way around. But realizing that not everyone uses social media, her flier gave very specific instructions on how to vote.

"Our flier said, go to your Facebook account, then go here to vote, and we posted the link. Our club, with some of our older members, figured it out and they helped us. We do have a lot of younger members too, who use social media,” she said.

Once the word of the contest spread, the local media did share the story, and Neushwander-Fink said that helped too.  

Neushwander-Fink says clubs that are just beginning playground plans should get their plans firmly in place before entering the contest. “If you’re two years out, maybe this isn’t your year. The timing was right for us, we had a timeline, other partners, other donors, and we had a great story to tell,” she said.  

Also, use the resources offered by Landscape Structures. “They have resources available, they have a grant guide and that’s very helpful,” she said. Neushwander-Fink wrote all the grants for the playground and received help from several of them.

Total cost of the playground was US$600,000. Her club contributed $37,000 and held fundraisers to support the efforts. The club also received funding from the Dana and Christopher Reeves Foundation and from foundations in her city and around the state. It took about a year to meet the fundraising goal, she noted.

The club hopes to have a ribbon cutting this spring, opening the playground to people of all ages and abilities.  

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