Lauren leading Maple Ridge playground drive

Meadowridge Rotary agrees to match funds up to $35,000 to rebuild the playground at Eric Langton in Maple Ridge

Kindergarten student Lauren Curtis

Kindergarten student Lauren Curtis

When six-year-old Lauren Curtis and the rest of her kindergarten class at Eric Langton elementary discovered their playground had been all but destroyed, they took it personally.

The school has two playgrounds, but one was repeatedly vandalized. It was smaller, located next to the kindergarten classes, and the favourite hangout of the younger students at the school.

And then it was gone.

During spring break in March, the playground’s slide was smashed, metal pipes were stolen, and the metal brackets holding the playground together were broken.

In April, vandals struck again, forcing school district maintenance workers to remove and block portions of the playground’s slide, rendering the structure all but unusable.

Lauren and her classmates were devastated.

“They were all really upset,” says Gail Curtis, Lauren’s mom. “This was their playground. They can’t believe someone would do that. They really take pride in their school.”

The school’s parent advisory committee started a fundraising campaign for a new playground. In addition to bake sales and trivia nights, students and parents at the school are selling tickets for the annual Rotary Duck Race on Aug. 5.

Lauren has led the way, already raising close to $1,000.

“She is very passionate about this,” says Gail. “That fact that this was her playground, she feels its up to her to raise this money to replace it.”

In the beginning, Lauren’s older brother or mother would accompany her and do most of the talking as they canvassed their neighbourhood, selling tickets for the duck race.

But soon Lauren was determined to do it all by herself.

“No mom, I don’t need you, I can do this on my own,” Lauren told her mom, instructing her to wait on the sidewalk as she knocked on doors and told her neighbours about how her playground had been destroyed.

“It’s amazing how its improved her confidence, not that she wasn’t confident before,” says Gail. “But she’s so much more comfortable speaking with adults.”

Lauren has always been an independent soul, she says. Nearly every day, as soon as she’s home from school, she’s eager to hit the pavement and help her school get closer to its  goal.

“She took it really personally,” says Lisset Peckham, chair of Eric Langton’s PAC. “She really felt like it was her playground, so she felt it was up to her to raise the money to replace it.”

For her efforts, Lauren was presented with student leadership T-shirt from principal Jon Wheatley, an honour usually reserved for Grade 6 and 7 students.

“She’s so proud of that shirt,” says Gail. “She wears it to bed every night as her nightie.”

Lauren’s efforts are much appreciated, and much needed.

The bill for a new playground is expected to cost in excess of $100,000, even with parents donating their time to build it, saving a further $20,000 on labour costs.

“That’s about the minimum to get something that’s accessible for all of our students,” says Peckham. “Playgrounds are an essential part of every single school. Kids can release energy, make friends and have fun.”

But they’re not cheap.

So far, the PAC has raised $28,000 towards that goal, but the community has been quick to support the school’s efforts.

The Meadowridge Rotary Club has promised to match funds raised by the school up to $35,000, and the Royal Canadian Legion’s local women’s auxiliary donated have donated $1,000 to the cause.

While the school district has already told parents it can’t afford to contribute to the playground’s replacement, Peckham is hoping the District of Maple Ridge will help out, given the playground is used widely by the community after school hours.

This week, Peckham will be presenting a proposal to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Parks and Leisure Services Commission, asking it to also match funds, and contribute the final third needed to pay for the playground.

Should the parks commission agree, it would leave parents at the school just $7,000 shy of their fundraising goal.

“When we first started, we thought it would take years to raise the money to get it built,” says Peckham. “Everything depends on that third part of the funds, but if the parks commission agrees … we’re hoping we can push it and get it done by September.

“The support from the community has been just wonderful.”

Gail is hopeful Lauren and her classmates will get to see the fruits of their labours before they grow too old for a new primary-sized playground.

“The kids here really take pride in their school,” she says. “There’s a great sense of community here.”