It's not uncommon to hear the happy voices of youngsters at play inside the YMCA of Hannibal. But on Friday, those sounds were originating outside the Y following the dedication of a new 4,800-square foot playground on the front side of the building at 1 YMCA Dr.
"It's very fun," said 7-year-old Aneyas Williams. "This playground is a lot bigger and has more swings."
Aneyas especially likes the bridge, linking one apparatus to another, and the artificial surface which is green like natural turf.
"I like the 'grass,'" said the youngster. "It's soft so if you do fall it won't hurt you."
The playground is designed to also be able to accommodate children who cannot use ordinary play areas.
"This playground opens the door for special-needs children in our community," said Joel Booth, president of the Y Men's Club, which made a $60,000 contribution to the playground project. "I don't know if you've ever been to a playground and seen a special-needs child sitting on the sidelines, but it rips your heart out. With the addition of the special-needs swing and a couple of the ramps on the playground equipment, special-needs children have the access to play on a playground just like every other child."
Another significant aspect of the new playground is that it is available for use by the general public.
"That's something I think is tremendous," said Staff Sgt. Jared C. Coons, who made a donation of $100,000 to the project. "How many YMCAs do you know around the country that open up their facility for non-members? This one is the only one I know of, and I've been to them all over the country."
Also playing a key role in the playground's creation was the Shine a Light on Autism organization, which paid for the special needs equipment, according to Pete Friesen, executive director of the local YMCA.
"Without the donations of Jared, the Y Men's Club and Shine a Light, this playground would have been harder to do. But because of their generosity I can't give enough credit to those groups and those people," he said.
Friesen says the new playground meets important needs.
"We're doing this mainly because we've run out of room in the building for the kids to come during the summertime. We also needed a playground that has special needs equipment in the community, so this was a marriage made in heaven," he said. "When Jared stepped forward with a gift of the $100,000, we were very excited about it."
Coons is no stranger to the YMCA of Hannibal.
"I learned to swim here. I learned to scuba dive here. I used to work here. I was an employee of Pete Friesen's as a life guard and swim instructor," he said. "My family has been a big part of this and believed in this place. It certainly kept me out of trouble being here in a safe environment. That's why they felt so strongly about it and me as well."
Page 2 of 2 - Coons is the son of the late Mark Coons and grandson of the late Chris and Harold Coons, who during their lifetimes made major donations to the local YMCA.
"As far as the ($100,000) contribution itself, what makes it easier for me and my family is the staff that makes up this place. They're the ones that make the difference here," said Jared Coons.