The principal suggested Lucas take his idea to the school’s parent organization, Parents Involved in Education. With his parents’ help, Lucas made an enthusiastic presentation and asked for PIE’s support. “They were super excited to help. It was very inspirational,” says Jennifer Fritsche, Lucas’ mom. The board agreed to help raise funds and, with the passage of a tax bond, the superintendent agreed to make improvements to the playground.
From there the concept snowballed. The mayor heard about it and asked Lucas to help build an inclusive city playground on land the city donated. Although the project was ultimately accomplished through Unlimited Play, a St. Louis nonprofit that builds inclusive playgrounds, donations rolled in from the start with nowhere to go. So, the Fritsche family spoke to the PCCF about starting a fund, nicknamed Fun for All, to properly collect the tax-deductible donations. “Instead of waiting to get a 501(c)3 and all that extra red tape, we were able to then start accepting those checks immediately,” Jennifer Fritsche says. “It was seamless. And we had a fundraiser coming up, so we were able to run all that through the community foundation.”
Starting the playground fund with the PCCF was a perfect match with the foundation’s mission, Swan says, which is to improve life in Perry County through aesthetics, culture, education and leadership. “Founding a fund with us gives you the opportunity to have an idea and run with it,” Swan says. Starting a 501(c)3 can be intimidating and time consuming. Establishing a fund with the foundation is a one-page form. “You fill it out and you’re done,” she says. “And you’re ready to go focus on the creative process versus the paperwork process.”
This continues a focus of the PCCF to establish funds to support community projects. In addition to the playground, PCCF funds have helped the Hope Therapeutic Horsemanship Center, the Perry County Military History Museum, the American Tractor Museum and the Missouri National Veteran’s Memorial, a full-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., to name a few.
The PCCF also gives away two grants totaling $2,000 a year, with $1,000 going to a project connected to the selected Humanitarian, says Swan, who has been chairperson for the last two years. The $1,000 grant in honor of Lucas will go toward the playground’s second phase, which needs $180,000 for additional playground pieces. Jennifer Fritsche says the PCCF fund could help with playground maintenance and eventually lead to other projects.
Asked how he feels to see his inclusive playground idea come to life six years after speaking out for a friend, Lucas lights up. “It’s kind of amazing,” he says.