Sylvia Johnson, Bria Windholz and Lauren Smith were the inspiration for what has become a successful kid-led fundraising campaign for the planned ARC Park in Hays.


"These three girls did a stand last year and raised just over $1,500," said Kathy McAdoo, executive director of The Arc of Central Plains. "They were our inspiration for the Lemonade Stand Challenge."


The girls’ first stand, the summer of 2019, Looms and Lemonade, featured lemonade, along with handcrafted friendship bracelets they made themselves on little looms, McAdoo told The Hays Daily News.


"This summer they did Tie-dyed and Sanitized," McAdoo said. "Kind of like to go along with the times. And they issued the challenge for us; they issued the challenge to all the kids in Hays. They are neat little gals."


The girls now have raised more than $4,100 in two years for the ARC Park, McAdoo said.


About 750 donors have contributed so far to the park, which is slated for construction in the city’s existing Seven Hills Park at 33rd and Hillcrest, according to Sarah Meitner, president of the board of The Arc of the Central Plains.


Besides children, that has included businesses, organizations, individuals, Scout troops, schools and family support groups, Meitner told the Hays City Commission at a presentation during their regular meeting last Thursday in City Hall.


"We’ve been amazed constantly by the community outpouring for this park, especially from our youngest citizens in town," she said.


In July The Arc challenged kids to open lemonade stands and donate their earnings to the ARC Park, said Meitner.


"We had 104 children participate at 14 stands in town. Those kids raised $23,098 in four days," she said. "They did amazing. That worked out to be $222 per participant."


In its two years of fundraising, Arc has raised about $672,860 toward the first phase, a 15,500-square-foot playground, or about $32 per resident, she said. Total price for Phase 1 is $774, 614.


"We are at a fundraising crossroads," said Meitner. "The community has entrusted us with so much money already that it’s really hard to ask them to dig deeper without showing them some action. That is why today we are here to request permission to go ahead and proceed with construction of Phase 1."


Ellis County is donating the dirt work and site preparation for Phase 1, valued at $12,637, for the nearly $2 million park. The Ellis County Public Works Department may get underway on that as early as September or October, kicking off construction. That will be followed by construction of the equipment, and installation of concrete and turf, Meitner said.


"The bad news is that the weather will likely push the final construction plans until spring," Meitner told the commission. Arc plans to order the playground equipment immediately, but COVID-19 has created a 12-week delivery delay, she said.


"The form place pouring is a large undertaking and will necessitate outside temperatures to be above 40 degrees, even overnight, for up to a week," Meitner said. "So unless we have an unseasonably warm November, that part of the installation can’t occur until April at the soonest, most likely."


Building in three phases will allow fundraising to continue while Phase 1 is under construction, she said, with the first payment due in November and final payment for Phase 1 in May 2021.


Phase 2 is a splash pad and a parking lot, and Phase 3 is an all-accessible turf baseball field, Meitner said.


Access to safe play space will give people with disabilities the opportunity to play in a way that they haven’t been able to in the community, Meitner told the commissioners.


"The ARC Park will encourage healthier behaviors, enhance individual self-empowerment, and provide a more welcoming and inclusive community," she said. "That kind of authentic inclusion, will pave the way to an enriched quality of life for our entire city and with time can lead to more inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities in classrooms, in work places, and living options."


Arc anticipates an economic benefit to the city as well, Meitner said, drawing visitors from outside of Hays by providing "a pit stop oasis for the special needs families who pass by on I-70."


Giving their go-ahead to starting construction, Commissioner Sandy Jacobs and Mayor Shaun Musil recommended the city kick-in $100,000 toward Phase 1 construction. At the suggestion of commissioner Ron Mellick, the commissioners decided to wait until after their annual retreat to decide on committing money, citing the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s finances. Commissioner Michael Berges abstained from the discussion, noting he’s treasurer for the Arc board.