By Amanda Dyslin
---- — It started out as a class project at Minnesota State University in January. Students in a grants administration class were asked to come up with real-world projects to write grants for.
Eight months later, senior Melissa Rath's project has far surpassed the class requirement and her own expectations. She's created a family gathering place in Easton, where she lives with her husband and two children, with almost $40,000 in playground equipment at the park.
“Before, there wasn't anywhere for them to go to,” said Rath, an Urban and Regional Studies and Business Law major. “Now they'll be able to go and know their kids can go off and play.”
Easton is a city of about 200 people, and in Easton Park there had been a couple of metal slides and four swings for kids and not much else.
“It didn't seem safe,” Rath said. “Our community needed a new playground area.”
Rath met with the Easton mayor to ensure her project idea was OK, and she began writing grants in the spring — in total, about 15 of them.
She ended up receiving grants from DuPont Pioneer, Walmart, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Mayo Clinic, among others. The grant-writing process was involved, she said, as each grant had different requirements. But together with donations, she raised $37,000.
The funds were used to purchase colorful, durable equipment from BYO Recreation. Among the pieces were slides, a bridge, climbing areas, monkey bars, a sandbox, bouncers, a cottage house and benches, among other things.
The community has come together to help with the project, Rath said. Her biggest helper has been her husband, Brian, who's been at the site almost every day, using his own equipment and tools for construction.
“He's really done a lot of work for this project,” Rath said. “I'm so thankful. It's a good thing. It's a family thing. (My kids) also have been able to see that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. That is a good lesson for them.”
Her son, 7, and daughter, 3, are also enjoying the fruits of their parents' labor. The grand opening for the playground was last weekend, and Easton kids have been enjoying the park.
Rath is glad to see that every last penny of the funds she raised has gone to something so positive. Now when parents come to use the nearby shelter, baseball diamond and volleyball court, their kids can go and play on new, safe equipment.
“(I am) very pleased,” she said.