Fallenstein Playground groundbreaking 2

Madison Harbarth, a fifth-grader at Washington Elementary, reads her speech with the help of Eric Sletten of the Miracle League of North Mankato at the groundbreaking for Fallenstein Playground Thursday. Harbarth said the playground will be inclusive for children like her. Photo by Pat Christman

NORTH MANKATO — A groundbreaking for the Fallenstein Playground project Thursday had families already looking forward to what could be a spring 2018 ribbon-cutting.

The inclusive playground project broke ground at Caswell Park, but construction will be held off until spring 2018.

Another $75,000 is needed to reach the project’s $600,000 goal before then, but fundraisers Thursday said they’re confident they’ll meet the mark. They’ll have help from families eagerly awaiting to use the future park.

Bryson Ponstein, 5, has been collecting coins with his family to contribute to the project. The idea started around the time the little guy had tendon surgery in June.

“He had surgery, so we used it as a way to encourage him,” said his mother, Beth Ponstein.

The family has 16 full jars so far, with checks mixed into the coins and friends pledging to match the amount raised. They guess it’ll amount to about $3,000.

Bryson was born with spina bifida, a birth defect causing the spine bones not to form around the spinal cord. He uses walkers to move around, which makes it difficult to use existing playgrounds.

“Playing at normal playgrounds is difficult or can be,” said his father, Brian Ponstein. “Just getting on and off the major stuff is a challenge.”

Madison Harbarth has helped her mom, a board member for the Miracle League of North Mankato, fundraise as well. The Washington Elementary fifth-grader spoke at the groundbreaking, telling the crowd “I will be included” when the park is completed.

“I think it’s going to be really fun, and I’m glad we got most of the money,” she said afterward.

Her parents, Rick and Pam Harbarth, said it felt surreal for the project to raise as much money as they have so fast.

“To get there in a little over a year’s time, it’s amazing,” Pam Harbarth said.

The Mankato Area Foundation has spearheaded fundraising efforts. Their $60,000 matching grant a year ago served as a launch point for the Miracle League’s donation drive. The nonprofit added on to the early boost with numerous fundraisers in the the last year to keep inching the project closer to the $600,000 needed.

They’re now about 88 percent there, with a winter to raise more before their hopeful construction date.

Eric Sletten, executive director of the North Mankato Miracle League, said it’s been heartwarming to see the community get behind the playground over the past year.

“It’s such a moving experience to see the community come together around this project, understand the need and see the passion,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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