UCO Student Raised $28,000 to Improve Elementary School
Mitchel Ruzzolli, principal of Horace Mann Elementary School, speaks to his students about the new playground under the tarp on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The playground was unveiled shortly thereafter. Photo by Cara Johnson, The Vista.
Alumna and current student at the University of Central Oklahoma, Lisa Gray collated over $28,000 in donations to implement a new playground at Horace Mann Elementary School (HMES). After two years of acquiring donation money, the school opened the new playground Monday, Oct. 24.
At the ribbon cutting celebration, hundreds of students were amused as they pulled off the covers veiling the playground. Students at HMES were on fall break when the new playground was placed and properly installed.
Gray’s son currently attends the school and will be able to use the playground before he moves to high school next year. Gray didn’t implement the new playground for her son, but rather for the future generations that will be able to access the new structure.
HMES Principal, Mitchel Ruzzolli, said that Gray saw the need to help other students instead of just helping her own child. He recognizes Gray’s passion to help the community and improve people’s lives.
Gray’s journey to utilize the new playground started when she was promoted to president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at HMES two years ago.
One of her goals and ideas was to replace an outdated and out-regulated playground that wasn’t fulfilling the students’ expectations.
“One of the reasons why I’ve seen a need for [a new playground] is that we are actually a healthy-lifestyle school. They fund us well for the kids to be active, but as a parent, I felt if the school is doing their part in providing and pushing the healthy lifestyle skills, what can we do as parents to help?” Gray said.
After taking her role as the president of PTA, Gray decided to look for playgrounds and was shocked by their high cost. The original one she was looking at cost $70,000. After several weeks of research, she found a company in Florida with fairer prices that was willing to ship the playground pieces to be installed here in Oklahoma.
A considerable number of parents got involved with fundraisers and became disciplined in raising money to improve the students’ school breaks.
The playground was purchased in May of this year, but money was still needed to establish it in Oklahoma City. According to Gray, foundations came together offering to pay for the installation costs of the playground.
The Aldridge Foundation, Cresap Family Foundation, Breit Company, along with the help from members of the community, Toby Tindell, Gregg Long and Holly Freeman, donated to the school and were engaged in the installation process.
After the outstanding donations, Gray decided to implement two soccer goals to the school.
“It was amazing that once people started hearing what we were doing here, they were coming forward and had no problem helping with that. I’m very appreciative. [It] not only helped the children get a new playground, which I know they are going to be super excited about, but it made me feel just a little accomplished because I made it my personal goal to make this project done before we left here,” Gray said.
The graduate student believes it’s important to give back to the community and help others succeed.
In June of this year, Gray started working at UCO at the Student Support Services-Lameta as a Retention Specialist helping students achieve their goals to their fullest academic potential.
“I love helping students. I was very appreciative that I got that job because now I’m able to help students at UCO. We help and cater to students that are first generation or are in financial need. To be able to do that at a university — for me it’s amazing because we have students that come in and this is the first time dealing with college, and their parents actually never dealt with it,” Gray said.
Gray said she hopes to continue helping students at UCO and students at other schools. She graduated UCO with a general studies degree and is now pursuing her second Bachelor’s in psychology.
“I think it’s important to give back to the community. I like to give back to students,” Gray said.