Playground to honor Zahra

The city of Hickory is joining forces with area service clubs to create a playground suitable for children with disabilities in honor of a deceased Hickory girl who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids.

Four Catawba County Kiwanis clubs announced Monday that they want to purchase, build and install a playground at the Kiwanis Park in Hickory to celebrate the life of Zahra Baker.

The Western Catawba, Newton, Hickory and Golden K Kiwanis clubs are raising at least $85,000 to purchase the playground, which will feature ramps and other equipment wide enough to be wheelchair accessible. It will also feature surface material that is softer and more springy than asphalt. There, disabled and able-bodied children can play together.

"Kiwanis has the experience ... to provide leadership and all the things that need to be in place," said Western Catawba club president Steve Aaron. "We're going to make sure it's done right."

Kiwanis is an international organization committed to children and their well-being. They sponsor and support many programs for children, including the Terrific Kids program and Key Clubs. Aaron said the organization's experience in raising funding and working on behalf of children make it a good candidate for Zahra's playground.

The playground equipment is designed by Playworld Preferred, who is giving the Kiwanis clubs a discounted price for the equipment and its installation, said Mack McLeod, Hickory's Parks and Recreation director.

The company heard the playground was for Zahra, and they expedited the design process to present playground concepts to the city and Kiwanis officials.

The new equipment will add to existing facilities at the Kiwanis Park, located on Sixth Street Southeast off Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard.

The new playground, set to open in late July, will also have two bronze plaques commemorating Zahra and offering information about donating to Zahra's cause.

"There's no one here who wasn't touched by Zahra," said Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright. "... I think (the playground) is absolutely wonderful."

The playground, however, isn't meant as a place for people to leave tangible objects, like toys or stuffed animals. The plaques will advise people to donate toys to the Salvation Army in Hickory instead of leaving them at the park.

The clubs will accept donations for the playground until June 30. McLeod said it takes about four weeks after the order is placed to receive the equipment. After the playground equipment is received, it takes about two weeks to install.

"What they envisioned was a playground where children of all abilities could play together," McLeod said.

Any money in excess of $85,000 will go to a scholarship foundation in Zahra's name.

Those interested in making a donation to the playground can send donations to Kiwanis Playground Fund for Zahra, PO Box 9572, Hickory, NC 28603. All contributions are tax-deductible through Kiwanis.