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Groups donate to Zahra playground

March 24, 2011

Fundraising efforts are up and running to purchase playground equipment in honor of murdered 10-year-old Zahra Baker.

Catawba County Kiwanis Clubs announced plans in February to create a playground where disabled children, like Zahra, can play with their able-bodied peers.

More than a month into the campaign, Kiwanians have raised about $3,100 of the $85,000 needed to create an addition to the current Kiwanis Park on Sixth Street Southeast in Hickory.

The county's Kiwanis groups are a long way from the ultimate goal, but Western Kiwanis Club president Steve Aaron said he isn't concerned "in the least" about obtaining enough money to purchase the wheelchair-accessible playground equipment.

"It took us about 30 days to get the marketing in place," Aaron said, adding the cause now has a website, flyers and other materials to get the word out. The website, www.playgroundforzahra.org, has a PayPal account, where people can donate online to fund the playground equipment using their Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express cards.

All Catawba County Kiwanis Clubs are raising money for the playground, which currently has swings, a slide and other play equipment.

Kiwanians plan to seek funding for the project from many different sources, including individual donations, Kiwanis club fundraising, major corporation donations and grant funding.

Aaron estimated that the county's Kiwanis Clubs, all of which are participating in the project, will raise about $10,000. Kiwanians are applying for several different grants, and Aaron said he hopes to receive about $40,000 in grant funding.

Kiwanians hope to solicit about $35,000 from larger area businesses and corporations.

"The community response has been, 'Just let us know how we can help,'" Aaron said. "It's been amazing."

The Lenoir-Rhyne Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) will hold a volleyball tournament April 30 to raise money for Zahra's playground.

"This is important to SOTA because the goal of occupational therapy is to help people live life to the fullest," said Kayla Latham, LRU's SOTA president. "The park will enhance the community of Hickory by providing a place for all children to play, regardless of ability level."

The tournament is open to the community and will include teams of four to eight players. Cost per player is $5, and all proceeds benefit Zahra's playground.

"I am excited to see the Student Occupational Therapy Association get involved in this project," Aaron said. Their efforts will go a long way in raising money for the playground project, but, more importantly, in raising community awareness that this project is in progress, and that everyone can help."

Deadline to register for the tournament is April 15. For more information or to register, contact Jennifer Lambeth at jennifer.lambeth@my.lr.edu.

Aaron said grassroots movements to help fund Zahra's playground are popping up within smaller organizations and businesses, as well.

Dad's Place restaurant in Hickory donated 10 percent of the store's proceeds from March 7-11 to the playground efforts.

"There's a lot of children here in Catawba County that we feel like needed help," said Jeff Austin, Dad's Place owner and manager. "They are the future."

Austin followed Zahra's case on the news, and he was compelled to do something to help.

"I just felt that, within my heart, we wanted to do something," he said. "We wanted to help out somehow."

Aaron said he hopes to have fundraising for the playground finished in July. In October, he wants to have children playing on the new playground.

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