Local 5th grade class fundraising to buy ‘all inclusive’ playground for disabled student

VICKSBURG, Mich. — Little Hannah Cook always has a smile on her face. She just started kindergarten at Tobey Elementary a month ago and people said she was the happiest kid in school.

“Every time I see her she always likes to walk by me and wave,” said 5th grader Carcel Tharge. “She always has the aide of another teacher. So me and my friend Trevor felt kind of bad.”

The entire 5th grade class felt the same way, they said during an interview at the school. They share recess with her and often saw her playing alone in a sandbox. Hannah has a form of cerebral palsy that affects her lower limbs. She wears leg braces and regularly uses a walker to get around.

“I see her playing there,” said Tharge. “I go over and run to my friends and I’m like well is the school going to do anything. I’m pretty sure they are.”

And they did. He said a group of them approached principal Mike Barwegen about what to do.

“They came to me and said ‘What can we do about this?’” said Principal Barwegen. “And I asked them ‘What can we do?’ And they took it from there.”

The students came up with the idea to fundraise for a new, “all-inclusive” playground. The students, he said, created a 30 second video about their fundraiser and put it on a GoFundMe page. Now, they’re asking people to donate the spare change in their pockets and drop it into an old five-gallon water jug that has Hannah’s picture on it.

“It’s wonderful to see. They just takeover,” said Principal Barwegen. “We had a parade Friday night and it was raining and they’re handing out flyers in the parade and giving up their own time to do things like that.”

Sand covers the area where the new playground will be built. Hannah’s currently in St. Louis for surgery and subsequent treatment for her condition. Principal Barwegen said he hopes to begin construction soon so it’ll be finished by the time she returns in November.

“There’s going to be a ramp so she can walk up it with her walker,” said fifth grader Natalie Balkema. “There’s going to be a little slide that she can go down and accessible swings for her. And everyone can play on that so she feels, you know, like part of the group.”

The kids said they’ve so far raised $16,000. But the goal is $20,000. They’re confident, they said, that they will reach their goal and possibly exceed it.

“People just like to really care about people like that,” said fellow fifth grader Olivia Curtis. “We’ve really worked hard in it and if they see our hard work, I’ll bet they’ll donate.”

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