Community rallies together to get school new playground.

October 23, 2019

Thomas Read Elementary School Principal Kara Vander Weele, First Grade Teacher Kristen Bisard, PTO President Chelsea Hayes, Caleb Coulter and Sophia Saunders.

Community rallies together to get school new playground.


By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

SHELBY – The playground at Shelby Public Schools’ Thomas Read Elementary has been in dire need of replacement for many years, and thanks to an aggressive community campaign the ‘Little Tigers’ will get a new playground soon.

Caleb Coulter, owner of American Apple in New Era, came up with the idea to raise money for the new playground with the “Little Tiger Challenge.” Local businesses, organizations, families and community members challenged each other to donate money, and the small community of Shelby rose to the occasion – even surpassing the $35,000 goal.

“We not only met our goal but exceeded it by $16,000,” announced Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) President Chelsea Hayes Tuesday night, Oct. 22. Hayes kept the community updated on the rapid progress of the fundraiser via the PTO’s Facebook page.

“Through The Little Tigers Challenge our community, families, and businesses raised a total of $51,000 in less than two weeks time,” Hayes states. “This is added to the $50,000 we had raised for the Thomas Read Playground Fund over the past three years, making it possible to now order our playground.

“We have many, many thank yous that we are eager to make. For tonight, we want to say thank you to Caleb Coulter of American Apple for dreaming up The Little Tiger Challenge and then pouring his heart and soul into it,” she states. “It has taken up much of his time and energy (and during peak harvest season, yikes!) but he has relentlessly given himself to this project each day. He told us he had an idea for how we could meet our goal before November, and boy, he wasn’t kidding! Thank you Caleb for all of this and more.”

Coulter said his inspiration for the challenge is a little girl named Sophia Saunders. Sophia, a Thomas Read student, had a booth set up at her parents’ store – the Cherry Hill Super Market in Shelby – to raise money for a walkathon that the school had as a fundraiser for the playground Oct. 4. Coulter said he was impressed with Sophia’s dedication to the cause.

“She has some physical setbacks and isn’t included in recess as much as the other kids,” Coutler said, because the outdated playground is not handicap-accessible. One of the many benefits to the new playground is that it will be accessible to students with disabilities. Listening to Sophia’s story struck a chord with Coulter who was inspired to not only make recess more fun for Sophia, but all of the other kids, too.

The new playground equipment that will be installed at Thomas Read Elementary School.

“Many have given to his fund since 2016, but they were working on a goal that they would never achieve,” Coulter said. The playground fund had $50,000, but it needed $35,00 to pay for the entire $85,000 project.

Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Tim Reeves said the playground is more than 40 years old. “It’s dilapidated,” Reeves said. “It’s good usable time has passed. Replacements and repairs will only take you so far.”

“I’m 41 years old, and some of the equipment was here when I was in elementary school,” Coulter said.

“Caleb is really responsible for kicking off this challenge,” said Reeves, who also credited Peterson Farms Chief Operating Officer Richard Raffaelli for his involvement in the effort.

“It’s been a very valiant community effort,” he said.

The New Era Elementary School also received a new playground – with a $20,000 price tag – last December. Funding for that project came from community donations and school general funds like the Thomas Read project, he said.

Many of the kids involved in the project at the beginning are now no longer in elementary school. “The next thing you know, they’re in middle school,” he said. Coulter, whose children are now in middle and high school, wanted to make sure the project got done as soon as possible.

When Coulter kicked off the challenge, fundraising efforts went into overdrive. “It’s been like a moving train going 100 miles per hour,” Reeves said.

“I am just in awe of the community coming together for this project,” said Thomas Read Elementary School Principal Kara VanderWeele.

Coulter set a deadline of Nov. 1, and the goal was achieved and surpassed Oct. 22. Now, the plan is to have the equipment installed over Christmas break. It takes five weeks after ordering the equipment to have it installed, so the Nov. 1 deadline was critical.

Plans are to install a plaque listing the donors who made the new playground possible, Coulter said. There will also be a pizza party at the school soon to celebrate the achievement.

The Little Tigers will certainly be happy to return to school after Christmas break when they finally get to play on a brand-new playground.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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