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Lester Community Playground was established with the goal of replacing the outdated playground equipment at Lester Elementary School that is currently not accessible to all students and members of the local community. We intend to build an inclusive playground that provides equipment that is accessible to children of all abilities and developmental levels.

Through the cognitive, social and physical values of play, the corporation will promote a spirit of inclusion, enhance the quality of life, as well as support involvement in recreation and wellness activities for all people and abilities. This playground will serve not only the students at the school, but also the community, parents, siblings, and grandparents of all ages and abilities.

 
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PATTY ESSLINGER

President: Lester Community Playground – I moved to Downers Grove in 2014 with my husband and three children, who attend Lester Elementary School.  Upon moving to Downers, we instantly felt a warm welcome by this amazing, supportive community.  My 16-year career serving family groups in public accounting led me to my current role as CFO of a family investment firm.  Throughout my career, my passion and drive to help others succeed in their business has left me with a feeling of wanting to do more for my community.  When asked to take on Chair of the Playground Committee, I immediately accepted.  The kids and parents of my community are SO excited to see the new playground come to life.  Every kid deserves an opportunity to play, to feel normal, included and safe.  This neighborhood playground would create that opportunity for our community to #PLAYLEARNREPEAT. 

 
 
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CHAD ESSLINGER

I am the lucky husband of the amazing lady above. I too love this wonderful community and am so excited about this project. As principal and designer at my interior design company CHAD ESSLINGER DESIGN, everyday I work with people to make their homes more functional and beautiful, and I am so excited to offer my help to make this playground become a reality, like creating and managing our website, video, and t-shirts. I am so excited to partner with the community to achieve our goal of designing and building an amazing playground for all!

 
 
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KIRSTEN FINN

My husband, Kevin, and I moved to Downers Grove in 2006.  We have 3 children at Lester and have meet amazing families through our school community.  I am a school based physical therapist with the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education.  I have the privilege to help children of all abilities access their school environment. I believe that recess is a very important part of our children’s school day.  It allows for cardiovascular exercise, gross motor skill development, sensory opportunities, and social skill development through unstructured play. There is a direct correlation between opportunities for movement and sensory based experiences and improved learning.  Every child deserves access to their school playground. And every child benefits from having their friends and peers play alongside them. It is my dream that we can provide an all inclusive playground to our students at Lester so all children can enjoy the playground at recess and before and after school with their peers.  This playground will also serve as a community playground for children of all abilities within our neighborhood. This project will take a community to build it, but will be a benefit to all.

 
 
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JOY MYERS, LCSW

Lester Elementary School has shaped all three of my children. Through excellent education, nurturing friendships and the importance of PLAY! My husband and I moved to Downers Grove 17 years ago. We wanted our family to grow up in a nurturing and inclusive community. We found those qualities in the Lester Community. As a Clinical Social Worker, I understand and value the importance that social and emotional play brings to each individual. It is through play that children develop the skills associated with overall positive social and emotional learning. These essential skills shape each of us for a lifetime. Lester Community Playground will give all the opportunity to play, learn, grow and develop!

 
 
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KATY O’DONNELL

My husband Kevin and I moved to Downers Grove in 2010 to raise our family. We felt that Downers Grove really embodied what we were looking for in a community. Lester School, where two or our three children currently attend, embodies that same inclusiveness that the community as a whole does. As a local Real Estate agent I have a very vested interest in not only our school and what it can provide to our enrolled students, but also what it can provide to the community. I'm very passionate about our playground efforts and know that when this project is complete it will provide years of enjoyment and development to Lester students and surrounding kids alike.

 
 
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NANCY RIFENBURG, MD

I have lived in Downers Grove for 10 years working as a radiologist with my husband and three children, who all attend Lester Elementary School.  I want to help raise money to build Lester Community Playground ... a place that kids from all around our town can enjoy for years to come.  Some of my favorite childhood memories were playing with friends at the park, and I would love for kids to play safely, creatively and to be inclusive by playing with kids that have disabilities.  It's great to be part of something so important.  This "play for all" mentality will help self-esteem, imagination, physical skills and abilities and will be FUN!

 
 
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KAREN SCHMIDT

My husband and I moved to Downers Grove in 2005. We purchased our home across from Lester School because we hoped to have our children attend school there and have the convenience of playing anytime at the school playground. My 4th grade twins have spent much time playing at the Lester School playground with many neighborhood children over the last 10 years. I had always hoped to see the playground brought up to date with more fun and inclusive features. I am committed to helping see this vision brought to reality by helping out on this committee.

 
 
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DEEPTI SHIVAKUMAR, MD

I moved to Downers Grove with my husband and twin girls in 2012.  Lester is filled with dedicated staff, teachers, children, and parent volunteers - each one committed on striving for the best for the children of our community. Children come in all sizes, abilities, disabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. But they all share in the smiles and friendships they develop on the playground. Some may think what we have at our playground now is sufficient, which may be in their own children's case, but we need to think about those children who sit at the sidelines because they can not physically get up on the equipment.  As a Family Doctor caring for children in my practice, I am well aware of the pathology behind physical, mental and social disabilities. I do believe our new playground will support and include ALL children and am very excited to part of this. Research has shown that PLAY is essential to children as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Our committee has been working super diligently on this lengthy process to make this dream a reality. We can not wait to see the outcomes.