Our story began its journey after a big hearted 8-year-old saw a friend in need—he decided something had to be done. With the help of his family, his friends, and his community, our hero was able to realize his dream of creating an All Inclusive Playground. Yes, happy readers, this was no easy task, by any means, but our guy overcame the obstacles, dealt with the frustrations, and never gave up. Today there stands a wonderful community playground where once there wasn't.
We are pleased to introduce, Lucas Fritsche, one of our 573 People of the Year.
For nearly half of his life, Lucas has been on a very important mission. Despite the obstacles that came with this journey, or the ones he faces every day for that matter, Lucas overcame adversity and beat the odds.
Lucas Fritsche, along with his younger sister and brother, was raised by two loving, hard-working parents on the family-farm just outside of Perryville in a little community called Farrar. He goes to school, runs track and cross-country, and likes to explore nature, play video games, and watch funny video clips on his phone. But Lucas Fritsche is no average eighth grader.
Lucas and friends raised over 500k to create this wonderful playground...and it took 5 years to do so.
For nearly half of his life, Lucas has been on a very important mission. Despite the obstacles that came with this journey, or the ones he faces every day for that matter, Lucas overcame adversity and beat the odds. And because of that, he was able to make a big difference in the lives of many local children.
MEET Lucus, one of our 573 Persons of the Year. It is his indivisualism and passion that makes us at 573 Magazine happy to know Lucas.
The number one driving force behind the project since the beginning, Lucas has learned at a very young age, the work, time, and determination needed to make things happen. It is his indivisualism and passion that makes us at 573 Magazine happy to know Lucas.
He’s been a major player in fundraising and with PR. He’s made videos, done interviews, put on presentations, attended planning meetings and has even been boots on the ground as a part of the volunteer team helping with the actual construction of the playground. Although sometimes overwhelmed with both public and personal obstacles, Lucas manages to keep moving forward and is a shining example of what it means to Get Out There!
I saw my friend Arawn and he was only on the swings because we didn’t have much to play on for kids like him.
I am 14 and I started this project when I was in my second year of second grade. I was 8-years-old. You see, I saw my friend, Arawn, who was in the same class as me—a special education class. We grew close. One day when I was in my classroom, I went to sharpen my pencil and the pencil sharpener was by our teacher’s desk and the window that looked out over the playground. When I was looking at the kids playing outside, wishing that was me, I saw my friend Arawn and he was only on the swings because we didn’t have much to play on for special kids.
I went to my principal asking if we could build some stuff for my friend Arawn and she said, “Well, that costs money."
I went to my principal asking if we could build some stuff for my friend Arawn and she said, “Well, that costs money. So then I talked to my parents about it and they took me to the P.I.E. (Parents Involved in Education) meeting for parents and teachers to tell them my idea of the playground at my school. When the Mayor heard about it, it just exploded everywhere making this happen!
When the Mayor heard about it, it just exploded everywhere making this happen!
Like many other all-inclusive playgrounds, Lucas & Friends features a tall sturdy fence, with locking latches high on top of the gates. The fence surrounds the whole park keeping it a safe place to play for everyone, and it gives the parents a happy secure smile.
Lucas has accomplished much in the last six years after bringing this issue to the floor. Finding sponsors and fundraising a whopping $520,000.00 over the course of five years, taking a year for planning and gathering volunteers, and helping to build and bring Phase One of the playground to completion.
573 Magazine: Lucas, tell us about the playground.
The playground has xylophones and other music equipment. It’s to help with creativity. And kids with special needs can reach it and play on most everything at the playground. My favorite spots are the orange slide and the treehouse. The orange slide is my favorite mostly because it’s fun for me.
The big orange slide, or Solemn Slide, has raised ridges swirling all across the surface area, and was designed to be a piece for sensory play. The raised parts give kids with Autism and other sensory disorders, like Lucas, extra sensory feedback. This can make their play more enjoyable and satisfy all the senses for these special, sensitive people to have a fun experience that keeps their interest.
We were going to need a treehouse, but one that everyone can play with, even Arawn.
The treehouse is another one. They wanted a backyard feel, and that meant we were going to need a treehouse. But one that everyone can play with, even Arawn. I really like the treehouse.
Like the entrance to the play area, ramps lead up into and throughout the main structure itself. The design leads them straight to the large lookout tower style treehouse, making it, like the rest of the playground, accessible and enjoyable for all.
...you can see patterns of large square red tiles. These tiles are there to let children with different impairments know that it’s a danger zone and should be avoided. This design helps prevent collusion type accidents which can often occur on playgrounds.
One of my other favorite parts of the playground is the tiles.
Lucas pointed out the different color tiles on the ground. Around the ends of the slides, and in a few other areas, you can see patterns of large square red tiles. These tiles are there to let children with different impairments know that it’s a danger zone and should be avoided. This design helps prevent collusion type accidents which can often occur on playgrounds.
I like the blue ones too, but they’re just the river. Because where do you go around here to have fun in the summer? A river. So we have one and it goes under the bridges and the green ones are the grass.
In the beginning, when we were finishing this, some kids actually snuck on site to play. I'm not ratting anybody out, just saying, it happened.
My brother’s favorite, the thing he loves the most is the roller slide. It’s for kids with Autism like me.
This design was created for the def. Children who wear hearing aids often can’t go down normal slides due to the static.
The roller slide is another piece of sensory play equipment that has extra input for kids like Lucas to experience. However, as Lucas’s mother explained, the rollers do more than allow for extra sensory. This design was created for the def. Children who wear hearing aids often can’t go down normal slides due to the static. A roller slide breaks the static, making it possible for kids with hearing devices to enjoy that kind of fun.
Lucas, now fully in his element and using his best friendly host/tour guide voice, confidently led us across the playground back toward the treehouse.
Now, if you’ll follow me, I’m going to show you what my favorite part of this entire playground will be when the whole thing is built. And that will be the most wonderful thing you can imagine. Have you ever seen Home Alone? When Kevin had to go through his house to the tree house, he had made a homemade zip line. Now this thing will have a zip line for people in wheelchairs.
The ropewalk runs side by side with a ramp bridge making it possible for friends to stay together while they play even with walkers and wheelchairs.
Jennifer, Lucas's mother explained that hammocks are good physical therapy for many children including those with physical disabilities and kids like Lucas with sensory issues.
A great feature about Lucas & Friends Backyard Adventures is the multiple areas of what is known as Parallel Play. This gives kids a chance to follow and play with their friends no matter their usual physical limitations. The ropewalk runs side by side with a ramp bridge making it possible for friends to stay together while they play even with walkers and wheelchairs. There’s also two sets of different monkey bars side by side, set up at a higher and lower level for the same purpose.
Phase Two of Lucas & Friends Backyard Adventure will provide even more wonderful pieces to accommodate children with a variety of physical and emotional obstacles. The plans for phase two contains features like swings and zip lines set for parallel play and a flush to the ground merry-go-round for an all inclusive spin with friends.
Autistic children and many with sensory issues can often become overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on around them. Getting too anxious, or excited, or receiving too much outside input (sometimes referred to as sensory overload) can often lead to a flood of emotion and/or physical or behavioral “ticks” that can be confusing, chaotic and become difficult to manage.
The Quiet Grove has been designed to be a small sitting space with large clear panels to help block out some of the sound and chaos. This will provide kids with sensory overload a safe, quiet place to take a little break and find their bearings. The idea is that if the child has a place to calm themselves, the family won’t feel like they have to leave. They can all stay and continue to have fun while their little one enjoys all the peace and comfort the Quiet Grove has to offer.
With all the amazing features, like slides, sensory play equipment, areas to climb on rocks, swing on monkey bars, and parallel play you can see Lucas is on to something there. Perhaps an expansion in parking will happen with Phase Two?
573 Magazine: Jennifer, what's needed to get Phase Two going?
Phase Two will only require about $200,000.00. We raised on average a little over $100,000.00 per year with Phase One. We’re hoping to have Phase Two done within two years.
Like so many other big projects in the 573, the support of the local community played a major role in Phase One, and its continued support will be needed for Phase Two to happen. The Lucas & Friends team just started working out the sponsor campaigns and upcoming fundraisers earlier this month.
573: Jennifer, what’s next for Lucas?
Lucas tells us right now he wants to farm with his dad and work at Unlimited Play (the company who designed the playground) and talk about playgrounds all over the country. He wants to tell people how important they really are.
We can’t wait to see what else this young visionary accomplishes in the future. Until then, Get Out There! You can do it!