Jennifer Smith, MHA Foundation board member and K-12 leadership development subcommittee chair recently sat down for a chat with Jolynn Schinstock, former Julia Randall Elementary School PTO co-president, who along with co-president and mom of three, Audrey Hougue, spearheaded the ambitious and ultimately successful JRE playground upgrade project.

Describing herself as a “regular parent here in Payson,” mom of five Schinstock served as JRE PTO co-president with Hogue for three years. She describes the state of the playground before the renovation as a “huge dust bowl” with dust flying. This caused many concerns for parents, not the least of which were health worries over children predisposed to respiratory ailments like asthma and allergies. In addition to less significant worries like torn clothing or skinned knees, she notes parents wanted “something fun to do” for their kids as well. The equipment existing at the time had become antiquated, and Schinstock notes that safety standards had evolved. The seed was planted, and the two rolled up their sleeves and set about the work of ‘play’.

The project began by doing “tons of fundraisers,” Schinstock recounts. Among them, the Adventure race, cookie dough sales, and a fun run with the kids at Green Valley Park. These beginning campaigns began to give them momentum. As they began to see the funds grow in the account, they started making modest plans. Early stages had them thinking of getting a small climbing structure with the budget. Seeing the balance continue to grow, however, they realized a more significant project might not be so far out of reach.

They began to expand their scope to encompass more, bringing in engineers, local excavators, and the school maintenance staff to help plan and execute the project. Schinstock also mentions in gratitude the vision and leadership of the JRE principal at the time, Linda Scoville, and then Payson Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Wyman in furthering the project along its course. Such engagement and positive response to their plans allowed them to push even further with the dream. Realizing they did not have to settle for minimal improvements, they began to hope for an ideal end result: the perfect playground.

With this revised vision on the table, Schinstock and Hogue began approaching larger donors. One such partner was the Mogollon Sporting Alliance. The MSA was willing to come on board with turf for the project’s ground covering The MSA led the two co-presidents to their next potential donor: the Mogollon Health Alliance Foundation, because they felt the JRE playground project was a good fit for the MHA’s mission.

Meeting with MHA representatives Kenny Evans and Sanja Long, Schinstock and Hogue presented the project vision and cost estimate, a significant financial undertaking coming in at around $175,000 for equipment and installation, not including excavation work that was covered by the school itself. They were hopeful that the foundation would find favor with them because they had not come empty-handed. In fact, they presented their project having raised more money than the amount they were asking the MHA to assist with. Schinstock explains, “Instead of asking for a handout, we were looking for a partnership.”

In response, the MHA was impressed. Jennifer Smith states, “I can speak firmly on behalf of the MHA; we love partnerships.”

The short meeting ended, and six to eight weeks later, the much hoped-for call came at last. Schinstock and Hogue were delighted to learn that the MHA and Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial Fund had teamed together to be able to grant them the requested $50,000 for the playground. Schinstock smiles at the recollection of the call, “It was really special.”

From the MHA’s standpoint, Jennifer Smith explains, “Our whole mission is health and education, so this is a perfect fit for us. We are thrilled we are able to do this.”

The project funding was especially sweet given growing documented evidence over the past two decades emphasizing the importance of unstructured play and its direct links to childhood development on numerous levels. In January of 2007, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics stated emphatically that “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” An added benefit to the students, the new facility can now also be incorporated into the schools physical education (P.E.) program. Schinstock elaborates, “So, Mrs. Sanchez (JRE P.E. teacher) can take her P.E. class out to the turf field and have class outside, instead of (just) the cafeteria.”

Local artist and fellow parent, Sarah Linkey, joined the project soon after with the offer to create a custom mural tile wall-art display as a further fundraising effort. The tiles would vary in size based on the donation. Taken out into the community, this helped the project raise an additional $30,000. The tiles have recently begun being installed, including special tiles hung for the MHA Foundation and the GLH Children’s Memorial Fund, which serve as anchor points in the artistic tribute to the playground’s many generous donors.

Now fully installed and in daily active use at the school, Schinstock remembers back to the day the playground opened. “Kids just flew,” she smiles. The new playground has eight swings, a 3-in-1 slide, merry-go-round, modern-day monkey bars. The most popular pieces of equipment are called comets, where students sit inside and are spun around. Shinstock laments, I wish we would have bought five,” as they were also the least expensive of the equipment procured. “Who knew?” she shrugs. All of the equipment is well loved and used, as any passer-by early in the morning or afternoon can see at a glance.

Looking back on the process of getting funding from the MHA, Schinstock reveals, “What really impressed me was they did it so quietly and they didn’t want to toot their own horn, but none of this would have happened without them.”

Jennifer smith offers this on the reason so little has been done to illuminate all the good MHA has done in the community, “It isn’t about us, it’s about the kids.

Schinstock agrees in thanks and concludes with this invitation, “Seriously, drive by and see those kids out there. Your heart will be full”

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