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Kids living at a local shelter have a new playground thanks to the efforts of charitable students

[May 16, 2021: Mary Jordan]

Kids living at a local shelter have a new playground thanks to the efforts of some Shiloh Christian School students.

"It's going to change lives," said Kristopher Adams, Restoration Village development director, about the playground.

The nonprofit, faith-based shelter opened in 1989 and provides residents on-site housing, counseling, equine therapy, advocacy services, enrichment trips and activities and transportation services, Adams said. The shelter serves about 50 women and children annually, he said.

The shelter previously had a modest playground with few features nearing the end of its usefulness, Adams said.

"It was functional," he said. "This is going to be more than a substantial upgrade. This is night and day."


The new structure -- which students and others built May 8 -- features three different platforms, a playhouse, a bridge, slides, a climbing net, a swing set and a jungle gym, said Alicia Brown, Shiloh admissions and public relations director. The students are also building a ninja-warrior-style course in a valley west of the shelter and three hammock stations by the shelter's pond, she said.

The playground and features not only will create safe play spaces for shelter youth but will help them cope with the stresses of trauma by offering physical activities, Adams said. The former playground was unable to meet the same life-changing need, he said.

"They are itching to get to that playground," Adams said of shelter youth.

Students didn't use a prefabricated playground; they built the play structures themselves, he said.

"The kids are crazy smart," Adams said. "They've done the entire thing and just kept us in the loop."


Some 87 Shiloh students volunteering with the school's Chick-fil-A Leader Academy worked on the project. They worked on finding a need in the community, developing a concept, designing the playground, fundraising, leading other students throughout the experience and ultimately building the playground, Brown said.

The Chick-fil-A Leader Academy is a yearlong program for sophomores and juniors that prepares students for successful futures as leaders, she said. The program features monthly leader labs focusing on core leadership principles and culminates in an end-of-year impact project, she said.

"Our mission is to develop godly leaders to engage their culture and change it," said Kortney Carnes, an eighth-grade Arkansas history teacher and school connections coordinator. "We have through this need been able to put into action our mission."

All 87 academy students worked in shifts throughout the day to complete the project, said Wilson Jones, a junior from Bentonville. The students led adult volunteers from the school and community through the build as well, he said.

Jones, 17, co-led the Logistics and Events team for the day of the build and helped plan the playground's ribbon cutting on Saturday, he said. The entire experience proved challenging and pushed him outside his comfort zone, he said.


Jones had to work the volunteer project around his school schedule, send emails to the entire student body and approach businesses in the community to help pay for food for the build and ribbon cutting, he said.

"I'm just a high-schooler, and that's really scary to me," Jones said of asking for donations.

The students didn't back away from the challenge and raised about $12,000 to cover the entire cost of the playground, Brown said.

In addition to asking area businesses for in-kind and monetary donations, the students received a micro-grant of $1,500 from Chick-fil-A and raised about $1,700 through a Sweats Day at the school, she said. Students were permitted to wear sweats to school for one day in April for a minimum donation of $5 toward the project, she said.

"We do have a dress code here at Shiloh, so a sweats day is a valuable day," Brown said.

Jones said the experience has inspired him to do more in the future beyond after-school service projects, such as picking up trash.


"There are needs in our community everywhere," he said. "I've learned that if I put my mind to something, I can get it done."

Shiloh will continue to communicate with Restoration Village to better understand how the school may help meet additional needs of the shelter and its residents, Brown said.

"It's all about impacting those around you," she said. "You can make an impact. Every person has a story. Every story has a name."

Shiloh Christian School has more than 1,000 prekindergarten through 12th-grade students at locations in Springdale and Rogers.


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