Handicapped swings prove student impact

When+installation+was+complete%2C+there+was+a+dedication+ceremony.+From+left+are+Ellie+Baker%2C+Magnolia+Advertising+and+Promotion+Commission+executive+director%3B+Kayleigh+Sneed%3B+Supt.+John+Ward%3B+Shermar+Easter%3B+Madelyn+Mitchell%3B+and+Principal+Chris+Carter.
When installation was complete, there was a dedication ceremony. From left are Ellie Baker, Magnolia Advertising and Promotion Commission executive director; Kayleigh Sneed; Supt. John Ward; Shermar Easter; Madelyn Mitchell; and Principal Chris Carter.

When installation was complete, there was a dedication ceremony. From left are Ellie Baker, Magnolia Advertising and Promotion Commission executive director; Kayleigh Sneed; Supt. John Ward; Shermar Easter; Madelyn Mitchell; and Principal Chris Carter.

When installation was complete, there was a dedication ceremony. From left are Ellie Baker, Magnolia Advertising and Promotion Commission executive director; Kayleigh Sneed; Supt. John Ward; Shermar Easter; Madelyn Mitchell; and Principal Chris Carter.

Sarah Nguyen, Senior Journalist

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If you’ve ever doubted whether you can make a difference, Shermar Easter is proving you can. “You can never give up,” he said in a recent interview; “you just gotta keep going.”

Easter, a junior at MHS, says in ninth grade he took his siblings to East Side Park and noticed that an eight- or nine-year-old child in a wheelchair had nothing to play on and was crying. Easter said the next day he approached his EAST teacher at MJHS who approved trying to get playground equipment for handicapped children as his EAST project. He met with the mayor and the city parks director and got to work. He applied for a private grant and was turned down; he tried again in 10th grade and was turned down for funding again by the same agency.

His junior year he took on two allies who worked alongside him to make his dream a reality. He worked with fellow EAST students Kaleigh Sneed and Madelyn Mitchell.  The three applied to the city’s advertising and promotions board, which gets to spend the money raised through hotel taxes in Magnolia. The board was so impressed with their idea, Easter said members gave their approval to purchase a swing set and wrote the check for $4,500 only 35 minutes after the proposition was made.

Easter said Sneed did all the research about what to buy and how much it would cost, and he wrote the proposal. Mitchell later designed the sign that says the equipment is reserved for the handicapped.

Three weeks later two swings for handicapped individuals arrived in Magnolia. The swings are now installed at East Side Park, but are accessible by teachers and students at East Side Elementary and the Kindergarten Center. One swing can hold wheelchairs, and the other is shaped to support the head and arms.

Easter said, “I think you’ll see more and more people who aren’t able to get the benefit of playing on regular play equipment come and enjoy the swing set.”

Other students agree. Callie Barnett said,” I believe it [the handicapped swing set] will promote an all-inclusive community with a positive impact on everyone no matter their personal aliments. People can embrace who they are now and not feel insecure that they are unable to enjoy recess or just a trip to the park like everyone else.”

Amya Reeves added,” I think this will let the kids with disabilities feel like they’re normal, just like their friends, and that nothing, not even a disability, can stop kids from being kids.”

Abbie Young, another student, said,” My mom works at Magnolia Specialized Services. It’s a school for developmentally disabled preschoolers and adults. Many of the adults are in wheelchairs, so it’s hard for them to find ways to be entertained, so a handicapped swing could definitely be beneficial to them.” She added, “I believe this swing can bring our community together as a whole and be inclusive of all people.”

Easter is not finished. He has two additional projects underway. He said he plans to get a concrete ramp for even more accessibility and a soft ground cover underneath the swing for safety. He plans to complete this new project in the next year or two. Easter is again looking for a funding source, as the ramp and ground cover could cost as much as $4,500.

Easter is also working on another project. He said he wants to install two new water fountains on the MHS campus. Easter plans to place one fountain by the front office and one in the cafeteria for students to use during lunch. These fountains would be deeper than the current fountains and have a sprayer pointing down so that a student could fill his or her water bottle. To pay for the fountains, Easter said he has applied for a grant from a program called “Rethink Your Drink” at the Arkansas Department of Health. He said the grants are designed to encourage students to avoid soda and drink more water to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Easter, Sneed, and Mitchell prove anything is possible if you work hard at it. Easter said, “If we can fix the small things in our school, we can all make a difference in the community, one project at a time.”

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