Manatee High School Key Club to build new Riverwalk handicapped-acessible playground

BRADENTON -- The sight and sounds of children's laughter as they traverse the designed obstacles of today's typical playground is the highlight of any day for child and parent. But disabilities keep some children sidelined from that basic play.

A group of Manatee High School students hope to change that as they pursue funding for an "Equal Play Playground" facility next to the existing playground on Riverwalk.

The school's Key Club -- sponsored by Kiwanis International -- is made up of 100 students who average more than 8,000 volunteer hours of community service every year. On top of that community service, each year the Key Club focuses on one large community project. While the handicapped-accessible playground idea was born late in the school year last year, this year's Key Club members have picked up the ball and are close to seeing a school club dream became a reality.

Kendall Mackey, a junior at Manatee High, is the project coordinator and presented the club's plans at Wednesday's city council meeting. Getting approval for a new amenity at Riverwalk is no easy task, but Mackey's presentation of providing something for disabled children and parents swayed the council into unanimous approval. The Key Club is pledging to raise the $35,000 for ship-themed playground equipment that will include an eight-year warranty. The students hope to have it installed this spring.

Mackey said the Key Club has about 15 percent of the needed $35,000 already raised and are preparing to raise for the remaining money. Kieran Grumley, a Manatee High junior and Key Club president, knew from the moment he took club leadership that he would choose Mackey to lead the charge.

"Between the transition of the last president

to myself, my focus on this project is that it had to be done properly," said Grumley. "From the beginning, I knew it had to be a priority for us and is why I chose Kendall as project coordinator. I've known her for a long time and she is passionate about things that are important to her. When looking at everything that had to be done to make this happen, there weren't a lot of people who I thought could handle the pressure."

John Vita, the Kiwanis liaison to the MHS Key Club since 1992, said this year's project stands out equally to other successful ventures such as doing an extreme home makeover event for a needy family two years ago or building the very first Habitat for Humanity house.

"All of our clubs over the years have been unique and special," said Vita. "This one is definitely in the top of all the things we've done. I have to admit that being involved with this through the government process has been an eye opener for me and to see Kieran's leadership in keeping it going was special because he could have very easily moved onto something else.

"And to see Kendall, not once but twice, stand up in front of a group of highly influential people and without batting an eye, give a professional, quality presentation is exactly what we are trying to do with our youth programs."

Thinking outside the box

Key Club faculty adviser Charlie Mills called this year's Key Club one of the most unique he's seen.

"Kieran throws out stuff that gets us all thinking we should have done that 20 years ago," said Mills. "He thinks outside the box. It's not always easy to get people to volunteer 20 hours a quarter, but Kieran and the Key Club leaders have a unique way of doing that."

Tony Sperduto, a MHS junior and Key Club secretary, also has worked closely on the playground project.

"I've watched it develop into a great project," said Sperduto. "To have a handicapped-accessible playground area that is right next to another playground where all the children can play together as equals is something this community really needs."

All three student leaders said the Key Club has been invaluable in teaching them leadership skills and the importance of being involved with the community, "not only in getting things done, but doing everything you need to do to exceed and, in turn, to get others to follow that same path," said Sperduto.

To assist the Key Club in meeting its goals by spring, contact Mills through Manatee High School at 941-714-7300.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.