SURREY — The wet and dreary weather wasn’t enough to wipe off the smiles of students at Green Timbers Elementary as the school’s new inclusive swing was unveiled.
The school’s 500 or so students recently marched outside in their raingear to witness the ribbon cutting of the newly installed red swing. Cheers and applause erupted as the ribbon was sliced.
“Today is more than just officially opening the swing. It represents something more than that,” school principal John Horstead told the students, teachers and community members.
“I’ve got a lot of kids who are special-needs,” the principal explained.
Twenty-four, in fact.
“I’ve got kids who are in wheelchairs, I’ve got kids with autism. They can’t swing on the swings like regular kids. And a lot of kids with autism need that stimulation but we can’t do anything. I said, ‘I need a piece of equipment that every kid in the school can use.’”
The project has been several years of planning – and fundraising – in the making.
In July, the Now told readers about three siblings who raised $11,000 to help pay for the swing. Ladee, Kabir and Channee (aged seven, eight and 13 at the time) heard about their principal’s dream to install playground equipment that children in wheelchairs and those with disabilities could use.
The hitch? The inclusive swing he had in mind came with a price tag of $18,000 when factoring in construction costs. And after two years of fundraising, the school was still a far cry from that.
The kids got to work creating a PowerPoint presentation and a speech, and presented it at their father Gurjinder’s annual Sussex Insurance conference. In a few short minutes, they received thousands of dollars in donations, all matched by Sussex.
Surrey siblings – from left, Ladee, Channee and Kabir Sekhon – didn’t think it was fair that some kids couldn’t play. So they did something about it. (Photo: AMY REID)
Horstead described their contribution as “magical.”
A donation of $5,000 by Green Timbers Covenant Church (GTCC) was also a godsend, the principal added, and the school’s PAC raised the rest.
The church’s fundraising began two years ago through a back-to-school yard sale, explained GTCC lead pastor Andy Sebanc.
“All the funds raised at the sale, anything sold, any of the food, came directly to the school. And we matched up to $2,500 on top of that from our Fullerton Fund,” said Sebanc.
“We realize that many (people) in the neighbourhood are a different religion than us,” Sebanc said. “That doesn’t preclude us from serving them but it becomes harder to find ways to interact. So we’ve become very much involved with the school because that’s a way we can at least participate in blessing the kids. If we’re blessing the kids, then we’re blessing the neighbourhood.”
Seated in his office shortly after the ribbon-cutting, a young boy with autism walked into Horstead’s office.
The principal’s face lit up as he recalled taking the boy on the swing.
“They get on that swing, and you feel their whole body relaxed,” Horstead said excitedly, explaining many children with autism like the rhythm it provides. It’s therapeutic, he added.
But the swing isn’t the end. Horstead is dreaming bigger.
He plans to raise funds for an outdoor classroom, which would be a first for the district, the principal said.
“That would be $140,000 or so, so that’s a very ambitious goal,” he said, adding that while he recognizes the challenge, he remains optimistic.
“Today is a symbol that if we all work together and keep our eyes on an important goal, then we can and will accomplish that goal,” he said, smiling.