Ryan Cook(NEW YORK) — Five-year-old Hannah Cook is a kindergarten student at Tobey Elementary School in Vicksburg, Michigan. School has been going great, with one exception: recess.
Recess, of course, is a major part of a 5-year-old’s day. But because Hannah was born with cerebral palsy, she was not able to access the playground because of the walker she requires. The little girl was for awhile, happy to watch and blow bubbles. The school brought in a sandbox for her to play in. It was a nice gesture, but it wasn’t the same.
“Hannah is such a sweet girl that she wouldn’t complain about not having anything to do,” her dad Ryan Cook told ABC News. “She was just happy to do what she could do.”
A group of fifth-graders befriended Hannah, and then approached their principal, Michael Barwegen, with a pointed question regarding the playground: “What are we going to do?”
Barwegen told ABC News he turned the question back on the kids: “What are we going to do?”
The kids decided Hannah needed a new playground. So Barwegen called Game Time, a company that builds them, and found out the cost would be about $20,000. Then, the work needed to repair the area around the new playground and other miscellaneous costs would be another $10,000. He challenged the kids to raise the money.
“Every day they came to me with a different idea,” he said. From a coin drive to selling bracelets to a GoFundMe page, the kids were committed. “They are so fired up,” he said. It rained during the homecoming parade, he said, and instead of heading inside the kids walked around in the rain handing out fliers about the fundraising efforts.
Meanwhile, Hannah has undergone significant surgery and is temporarily out of school. “Hannah is aware of what they are trying to do,” her dad said. “While she was flat on her back for three days after surgery very few things would make her happy and that was one of them. It made her so, so, happy during a tough time for her.”
The school is more than halfway to the $30,000 needed to build what they’re calling the “All In” playground. They hope to have it installed when Hannah returns to school in November. “They chose that name,” Barwegen said, “because it’s not ‘Hannah’s playground.’ It’s a place where all the kids can play together, including Hannah.”
He said the school has so many people who want to volunteer to install the structure — from parents to local businesses — that he has to find other ways to put them to work, he said.
As for the Cooks, they’re thrilled how the school and the community has come together in support of their daughter.
“We are proud of the fifth-graders,” her dad said. “There are a lot of differences in generations and they’ve been magnified over the years but these kids have proven that the younger generation is becoming more accepting of people that are different. When we were younger it wasn’t that we didn’t accept it but we didn’t make effort to incorporate them into our lives. The community involvement and willingness to spread the word and donate money is astounding.”
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