LUMBERTON — The nearly 300 students at W.H. Knuckles Elementary School in Lumberton had something to look forward to when school began last week — a revamped playground.
Volunteers, school staff, the United Way of Robeson County, city officials and the BB&T Lighthouse Project pitched in the refurbish the school’s playground and replace some of its outdated equipment — some of which had fallen into such disrepair that it had be roped off with yellow caution tape.
“The look, the feel — these young people know the community cares about their needs and if students feel we care that will empower them to go forth an do their best,” said W.H. Knuckles’ new principal, Eric Sanders.
The finishing touches were put on the playground the week before the new school year began.
According to Latricia Freeman, executive director of United Way of Robeson County, her organization was approached by a teacher last school year who was seeking $50,000 to upgrade the playground, which aside from a new piece of equipment purchased by the late Afeni Shakur in 2002, hadn’t been updated in 40 years. The organization didn’t have the money to meet the request, but wanted to pitch in.
“… Seeing the kids swings wrapped around the poles and the seesaw with caution tape on it, no kid should have to see that,” Freeman said. “Some of our fondest memories were playing on the playground during school with our friends.”
The agency reached out to Karen Higley, a Lumberton city councilwoman and employee at BB&T, for help through the bank’s Lighthouse Project, which provides financial and hands-on support to local causes.
As part of United Way’s Day of Caring campaign in May, volunteers repainted and sanded the safe equipment on the playground. BB&T ordered a new seesaw and United Way ordered a new slide. A new activity board — with educational activities like a maze — and new swings have also been installed.
“It really looks beautiful and I’m grateful for it,” Sanders said. ” … It almost looks like every piece of equipment out there has been refurbished, repainted or touched up.”
Freeman said United Way of Robeson County refurbished a park “many years ago,” but had never worked on a school playground before.
“It doesn’t matter whose child it is, we’re investing in them when we do those types of things,” she said.
Both Sanders and Freeman said the project wouldn’t have been possible without the donations and help of local volunteers and businesses, including PTO President Brittany Jones, activist Lisa Douglas, BB&T, City Council members, parents, Lumberton Ford, Lumberton Chevrolet, Lowes, True Value, Builders Discount, Sign City, Superintendent Tommy Lowry and school board member Loistine DeFreece, Eshonda Hooper and other organizers of a Martin Luther King Day parade that raised $1,500 for the project and former principal Adrian Sinclair -Davis among others.
“It was real collaborative effort in the community through a lot of people,” Freeman said.
Sanders hopes the kindness of those volunteers will inspire students at W.H. Knuckles to pay it forward. Playing on the new and improved playground also stimulates students’ minds so they are ready to learn in the classroom.
“It has really made a difference for the school and I’m excited to see the changes here at Knuckles,” he said.