Local nonprofit begins fundraising for inclusive playground equipment | News

TUPELO • Although their primary mission is to provide lightly-used clothing and toys to children in need, local nonprofit agency Cami Jo Cares is broadening their scope by raising funds to build a playground for children with disabilities.

The agency began fundraising Wednesday to purchase inclusive playground equipment for Veterans Park. The idea originated from Cami Jo Cares president Patrick Fullerton, who was inspired by having both a family doctor and friend with children who use wheelchairs.

Fullerton and Cami Jo Cares vice president, director and founder Jamie Geller Fullerton began researching inclusive playground equipment options and teamed up with Laurie Alley, president of Moonshoot Recreation, as well as team member Shirley Montes, the City of Tupelo and Director of Parks and Recreations Alex Farned to plan out the project.

“It’s shocking that we don’t have something like that around here,” Fullerton said.

Cami Jo Cares is budgeting $60,000 for the project. Approximately $49,999 of that will be donated to the city of Tupelo to purchase the playground equipment. The remaining amount will be used to purchase mulch and other playground necessities like shades and be used for future projects.

The Cami Jo Cares Playground Tupelo Project will include five different kinds of equipment. Some, such as the We-Saw and Omni Spinner, are a take on playground classics such as the see-saw and merry-go-round. The Friendship Swing will allow multiple users to sit in a swing simultaneously and is big enough for parents or friends to sit inside with the child, while the Chill Spinner and Curve Spinner use spinning to engage the vestibular system and provide kids’ brains with valuable equilibrium information, according to a press release from Cami Jo Cares.

With time and financial help, the nonprofit’s organizers hope to add more equipment. Aside from monetary donations, they are also looking for donations of mulch and benches alongside monetary donations. The benches can be sponsored and include a plaque with the names of individuals, families or businesses, in addition to a metal sign explaining Cami Jo Cares story and thanking those who helped make the project possible.

Fullerton said the playground will address a need that is likely larger than most people realize.

“You might not have someone in your family who is … disabled, but everybody knows somebody that’s disabled,” Fullerton said.

The goal is to raise the necessary funds within six months to a year, though Geller-Fullerton said they will fundraise for as long as it takes to reach their goal.

Montes is working on organizing an online auction and was helpful in securing a grant from Arby’s for Cami Jo Cares. They have also hosted events for Cami Jo Cares and are allowing people to donate clothing at their location, though they must call in advance.

Cami Jo Cares is planning other events to help raise funds. The organization has partnered with Tupelo’s Haunted Castle to host a fundraising night Oct. 18 at the Mooreville haunted attraction. There will be a Christmas fundraising event the first weekend of December that will be announced at a later date. They also welcome restaurants and other businesses to get involved.

Cami Jo Cares was founded in 2017 by collecting lightly used clothing and toys for children in north Mississippi.

Although on the surface, the playground project may seem outside the organization’s wheelhouse, Geller-Fullerton said it falls neatly in line with one of their more abstract goals: inspiring children and adults.

“With the pandemic, it has been such a horrible year for everybody, and this is going to bring so much positivity for everybody,” Geller-Fullerton said. “It’s going to be such a great thing for Tupelo to have and for kids to come to, and families come to, where they all can enjoy the playground equipment.”

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