Billtown’s barn-raising displays positive power of giving

We heard the cheers from half a block away: A pickup truck filled with kids whooped and waved their arms when they realized the new playground had finally opened.

By Joanie Stiers
Chairperson, Playground Barn-Raising Committee

We heard the cheers from half a block away: A pickup truck filled with kids whooped and waved their arms when they realized the new playground had finally opened. Coincidentally, our playground committee had just removed the security fence minutes ahead of their unplanned arrival. The kids sprinted from the truck to climb, spin, swing, slide and jump, and our smiles widened as big as theirs.

That symbolic impromptu moment showed the grateful community acceptance we wanted to achieve. More than two-and-a-half years prior, our Williamsfield Parks Association and Williamsfield FFA Alumni & Friends first talked about this ambitious playground idea for our park. To see the final product and the excitement of those families gave us a glimpse of the positive impact this playground would have on our small, farming town for generations. Today, Williamsfield families no longer drive 25 miles roundtrip to find a modern park playground. They have a first-class playground in their hometown’s park thanks to the generosity of people.

For the nearly 160 donors and volunteers, a visit to the new playground at Doubet-Benjamin Park in Williamsfield means more than playtime for kids and grandkids. They emotionally bought into this project. Each component carries a meaning and shares a story that started in early 2016, when volunteers from the Williamsfield Parks Association and Williamsfield FFA Alumni & Friends pooled their interests and resources to create the Playground Barn-Raising Project. The project morphed into an ambitious effort to first raise $150,000 and then to raise a destination playground barn, several free-standing playground accessories, a safety surface, trees and benches in the park at the northwest corner of town.

Before we printed the first brochure for this farm-themed playground, our volunteer organizations spent more than a year researching, setting goals and developing a campaign plan. One of the best decisions we made included a partnership with the Galesburg Community Foundation to manage our project’s funds for a nominal fee. This saved significant amounts of volunteer bookkeeping. The partnership also added a greater level of credibility to the campaign, which sought to raise and manage $150,000 – an ambitious goal for a playground in a 550-resident town.

Foundation staff surpassed our expectations as they shared advice to help us run a professional fundraising campaign. They cheered for us throughout the journey and guided us through significant campaign milestones.

With funds raised, the equipment arrived, and the parts for the barn alone filled a 40-foot flatbed trailer. We gathered volunteers – farmers, carpenters, FFA members and other residents with skills and equipment – to build the barn. Hard work and rural ingenuity secured roof panels 20 feet in the air, tightened 1,600 bolts and raised 200-pound steel poles on end. The entire playground project required 77 tractor-dug holes and the mixing of 10 tons of Quikrete – literal sweat equity.

Truly indescribable on many levels, this playground project represents one of the most remarkable events of my lifetime, and I sense that among fellow donors and volunteers. That big red barn creates memories for the region’s families, yet also symbolizes the power of collaborative philanthropy – the power of what people can do when they collectively give their funds, time, talents and hearts to attain a common goal. This legacy landmark embodies our small-town values and tells visitors that our community is passionately committed to youth and agriculture. That playground makes life better here. And you don’t even have to ask the kids and families. Just watch them.

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