MANKATO — Aidan and Evie Olson were having a lot of fun Thursday, so they really didn’t care about a partnership between the city and volunteers that was allowing them to swing, bounce and laugh together.
Evie, 4, has Rett syndrome and uses a wheel chair. Aidan is as lively and active as most 8-year -old boys and has no problem getting from one activity to another at Mankato’s many playgrounds. Until recently, there wasn’t a park where the brother and sister could easily play together.
Getting Evie out of her chair and carrying her to different activities in a park is more of a chore than it used to be, said her father, Jeremy Olson.
“When we heard about this we were really excited,” he said as the kids bounced in a big boat that had plenty of floor room. “We can bring her in her chair and get around.”
Reaction from others who know about the park, which is located off Tanager Road in the Wings Over White Oak neighborhood, has been positive, said Tanya Ange, assistant city manager. One grandmother told her it was the first park where she could watch her grandchildren play together.
“It really meets the needs of all kids, not just kids with disabilities,” Ange said. “All kids can play together side by side and she was really touched by that.”
The park became a reality when Ange heard about an opportunity to get inclusive playground equipment from a Minnesota company for a cut-rate cost. Funding for the equipment, which includes fun activities for children of all abilities, had fallen through for a California children’s hospital. So Ange was told she could get $96,000 worth of equipment from Flagship Recreation for about $66,000.
The only problem was the St. Louis Park business needed an answer quickly. That’s what prompted a call to Mankato Area Concerns of Special Needs and Public Servants, a group of volunteers better known as SNAPS, that already had experience raising money for Rett syndrome and veterans. The organization was finished raising money for Veterans Memorial Place and looking for a new cause.
“Last year the City of Mankato approached us,” said Amy Vokal, a Mankato police officer and member of SNAPS. “They said, ‘We got this incredible deal on equipment,’ and asked if we would help fund this playground.
“For us, it just fit in with our special needs vision for the community.”
For the next four years SNAPS has agreed to provide a total of about $41,000. The city paid the remaining $25,000 and is working on finding more funds for a hoops court at the park that also will be easily accessible to people with disabilities.
The way SNAPS raises money is as much fun for adults as the new playground is for Aidan and Evie. They will be using proceeds from this Saturday’s Bend of the River Smoke Off at Buster’s Bar in Mankato to make a playground payment.
There will be about 30 talented cooks competing for prizes by smoking about 8 pounds of pork shoulder each. Experienced judges will be grading them on taste, texture and presentation. Attendees will be sampling the meat and voting for the People’s Choice Award. The event also includes a raffle, craft beer tasting and a bean bag tournament.