Web Exclusive - August 2012
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A Miracle for Joplin

New Playgrounds Set Up at Cunningham Park

By Deborah L. Vence

The twister that ravaged the city of Joplin in Missouri came late in the day on May 22, 2011. The EF5 tornado lasted for nearly 40 minutes, snaking its way through the city and causing more than $2 billion in damage. More than 100 people died and hundreds were injured.

Besides homes and businesses that were destroyed, the wreckage also included two playgrounds, located at Joplin's Cunningham Park. Many playground structures were destroyed or damaged severely. And, the devastation to the park personally affected employees of Miracle Recreation's manufacturing facility and offices, which are located just over 40 miles from Joplin.

"Cunningham Park is located directly across from St. John's Hospital in Joplin, which served as the epicenter of the damage to the city," said Don Hemingway, vice president of business development at PlayPower, Miracle Recreation's parent company. "The EF5 tornado caused significant damage to the park, which was located toward the center of the tornado's path of destruction. Nearly all of the structures located in and around the park were flattened or badly damaged. Surprisingly, the two Miracle playgrounds located at the park were still standing after the storm, but were damaged and in need of replacement."

One year later, Miracle Recreation has attempted to help rebuild the park by installing replacement playgrounds. Employees joined forces with volunteers in early May to set up the playgrounds there.

"The new Mega Tower playground is significantly larger and can accommodate more children—up to 190—than the previous playgrounds. The playgrounds at Cunningham are also designed for children of various ages, with a smaller playground available for 2- to 5-year-olds, and the larger Mega Tower playground for 5- to12-year-olds," Hemingway said. "Unlike the previous playgrounds, the new Mega Tower system has multiple levels, with many play activities and six slides in total. Two of those slides are over 14 feet high."

Since completion, the playground has seen a continuous stream of children using the equipment.

"Once the children saw the Mega Tower unit with the big slides, they couldn't wait to give them a try," Hemingway said. "At the Grand Opening during the Walk of Unity commemorating the 1-year anniversary of the tornado, the playground was packed with children, all waiting to climb to the top story of the Mega Tower and slide down the giant tube slides. It was great to get to see the children so full of excitement and enjoying the new playground."

The official grand opening for the new playground at Cunningham Park was held May 22 of this year, as a part of the "Walk of Unity" event planned in observance of the first anniversary of the deadly tornado.

"Miracle was truly honored that the city of Joplin selected us to provide their playground," he added. "During the construction process, it was amazing how many families and members of the community came over to thank us for our contribution and tell us how excited they were about the new park.

"As soon as our crews arrived in the city, you could tell how hard Joplin has worked to rebuild," he said, "and we were honored to be a part of the process."

In addition to Cunningham Park, Parr Hill Park—located at the corner of South Kansas and East 18th streets in Joplin—also received new playgrounds based on donations from members of the community after the tornado. Parr Hill, though, did not experience the amount of damage like Cunningham Park. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also provided some playgrounds at the temporary housing units.

Proceeds for the purchase of the replacement playgrounds at Cunningham Park were provided by the city of Joplin and by Miracle Recreation through its $25,000 donation. A local Miracle certified installation company and about 50 Miracle employees donated their time and services to install the playground equipment. In addition, Sam's Club, a popular retail warehouse club chain, donated bottled water, and sandwich giant Subway provided lunch to the installation crew and volunteers during each day of construction.

Photos of the Cunningham Park Playground project can be found at Miracle's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/miracle.recreation.equipment.company