Pirnie Inclusive Playground Opens

May 7, 2024

A large crowd turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the Pirnie Inclusive Playground at Ryder Park on May 1.

The idea for the park originated with students in the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program at Ƶ-Grand Island. Construction on the 27,000-square-foot, $2.8 million facility was completed earlier this year.

In her welcome address, Ƶ-Grand Island Campus President Dr. Marcie Kemnitz said the project is an example of how Ƶ meets its mission of maximizing student and community success.

“Yes, we are about supporting students, our core, but the community is also our strength. It’s in our middle name,” said Kemnitz. “This playground exemplifies our shared values of access, inclusion and partnership.”

Kemnitz also recognized Ƶ Board of Governors member Tom Pirnie (pictured right) and his wife, Sue (pictured second from right), for being the lead donors of the project. Overall, the Ƶ Foundation raised $1.6 million from more than 260 donors.

“We stand here together to emphasize that in Grand Island, we get things done,” said Traci Skalberg, Ƶ Foundation executive director. “It’s our way, but we never do it alone. It takes a village and, in this case, it takes a community.”

Katie Soto (pictured holding scissors), campaign co-chair and the mother of a daughter with special needs, addressed the gathering and later cut the ribbon. She spoke of the pain she and other parents experienced when watching their children being excluded at other playgrounds because of inaccessible equipment or lack of accommodation. With tears in her eyes, Soto said that the Pirnie Inclusive Playground will break down barriers and open a world of possibilities for so many.

“To our children, this playground is more than just a place to play. It’s a symbol of love, acceptance and the belief that we are all valued and deserving of this opportunity,” Soto said. “For us as parents, it’s a reminder that are children are not defined by their disabilities but by their unique talents, personalities and the boundless potential that they possess.”

Bryan Klinginsmith, one of the OTA students who championed the playground, expressed thanks to Ƶ and the Ƶ Foundation for supporting the project from the start.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that this actually started out as a homework assignment and ended up being the largest inclusive playground in the state of Nebraska,” said Klinginsmith. “I’ve been out here many times with my kids and parking lots have been packed, the kids have been running around and usually the parents are right behind them playing on the equipment themselves.”

Some 30 Head Start students from Grand Island joined in the countdown for the cutting of the ribbon.

Also pictured: Melissa DeLaet (holding ribbon, left), CEO of the Greater Grand Island Community Foundation.