By Kim Jansen

News Report Staff

Community members and local businesses stepped up on Giving Tuesday to raise funds for a local project — an inclusive playground to accommodate children with a broad range of physical and cognitive abilities.

The Effingham Park District has been working for the past two years to raise the $700,000 needed for the construction of Harmony Park, and with the district just $100,000 short of the goal, the fundraising group for the project decided that Giving Tuesday would be a great opportunity to make the final push to raise the needed funds.

Giving Tuesday has become a national movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy during the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Over the past five years, since its conception, the Giving Tuesday movement reminds residents to take a moment out from their Christmas and holiday shopping to give back, whether it be to a local charity, a community project or other worthy cause.

On Giving Tuesday, which follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, members of the fundraising committee and the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation worked with local radio station, WXEF, and used social media to get the word out in hopes of raising the remaining $100,000 needed for the project.

“We partnered with the Community Foundation in hopes of trying to conclude the fundraising this year,” said Aaron Myers, who is the chairman of the playground project. “With the help of local support, we were able to spread our vision and the importance of Harmony Playground to raise funds.”

During Giving Tuesday, $80,264 in funds were raised for the project, leaving the fundraising committee just $20,000 short of the $700,000 goal, which does include in-kind donations from area businesses and service providers.

“It was awesome,” said Myers of Giving Tuesday. “Going into that day, I didn’t know what to expect, but the support from the community was overwhelming.”

Myers said donations of all sizes — from $5 to $10,000 — were received that day, and although the $100,000 remaining wasn’t quite met, the park district does have enough funds to start construction of the project.

Effingham Park District Director Jeff Althoff said the Effingham Park District has ordered the playground equipment and construction will begin on the project this spring. All are hoping of the project will be completed by the summer.

“We are extremely excited that we get to start on this project and finally get it going,” said Althoff.

The property to be developed for the playground is located at Evergreen Hollow Park, to the east of the Richard Workman Sports and Wellness Complex and to the north of the tennis courts and baseball field. North Maple Street will provide access to the parking lot for the facilities.

The playground area will include inclusive playground equipment to accommodate children with a broad range of physical and cognitive abilities and will also include the construction of a pavilion and restroom area for that side of the park.

Discussions about a Dog Park in that area are also in the plans for the Park District, but Althoff said that is a project that is still in the works and is not connected to the Harmony Playground fundraising efforts.

Although the Park District does have the needed donations to begin the Harmony Playground project, Althoff continues to encourage residents to give to the project to reach the additional $20,000 and meet the $700,000 goal. If additional funds are raised, the district will use the donations to purchase more equipment for the park.

“We welcome every donation that comes in,” said Althoff. “If we exceed our goal, we will be able to add more things to the playground. The playground is going to be a great asset for the community, and I can’t wait to have it built and ready.”

Althoff is still surprised by the generous giving on Giving Tuesday.

“It was just phenomenal,” said Athoff. “It was way better than what I expected. We went in with a goal of $100,000, and I was hoping to get half of that. But as always, the community just stepped up and really exceeded my expectations.

“It just proves once again why this is such a great community to be a part of,” he added.

To learn more about the playground area or to make a donation, visit http://www.enrichingourcommunity.org/Funds/harmony-playground-fund.