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Kentucky by Heart: Andrew Dunn’s RAK organization steps in to fix school playground following vandalism

Vandalized playground at Blue Lick Elementary School in Louisville (Photo from RAK-Louisville)

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Ask almost anyone associated with elementary schools how important the outdoor playground is to the life of its students, and they’ll quickly tell you it is vital. There are obvious health benefits, for sure. Free play also fosters creativity and social skills, and studies show that physical activity can increase academic performance.

So, when Blue Lick Elementary School, in southern Louisville, was vandalized and burned in October 2022, the act dealt a blow to the school’s regular educational process.

Andrew Dunn (Photo by Shareen Dunn)

One wonders why someone would do such a mean-spirited thing that hurts innocent children.

The deleterious action cried out for taking the high road and producing a positive and proactive reaction, and that’s where Andrew Dunn and his Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) organization in Louisville stepped forward. I profiled Andrew in the fifth volume of my book series, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes, telling the story of how the group was established and its accomplishments with his leadership. Essentially, RAK-Louisville does good deeds in their community, and on a consistent basis.

After the sad event at the school, RAK created a fund-raising drive, calling it “Operation Playground.” The goal is to have $400,000 to rebuild the playground at Blue Lick, plus to do even more. School funds will account for $70,000, along with an insurance claim of another $70,000. That would leave $260,000 for RAK-Louisville to collect through private donors.

But for the short term, RAK wants to raise $100,000 of the amount in March “so the kids can have something to play on, and then (we’ll) raise the rest later,” said Andrew. “Mental health is so important and having playtime is crucial to this.”

Andrew said RAK was already helping Blue Lick Elementary before the vandalism happened. “One of our student board members, Nora Lucas, lives in the Okolona area,” he said. “Last summer, we put in an outdoor pantry at Blue Lick Elementary School, working with the Family Resource coordinator. Nora has also done snack bags for their students and RAK-Louisville does our best to keep that pantry stocked.

Proposed new playground for the school (Picture credit RAK-Louisville; click for larger image)

“RAK became aware of the issue from Jon McCallon and from the Lucas family,” Andrew continued. “Jon took it upon himself to lead this project and came to me to see if we would be interested in a partnership. And of course, we said yes. Recess was always my favorite period and I loved and needed my playground time.”

The new, improved playground plan would consist of scaling up the play area from 1,450 sq. feet to 7,500 square feet, add increased ADA accessibility, and have more modern, diverse play surfaces.

Jon operates a Louisville organization that helps people successfully hatch and launch their ideas. He explained that he “felt a strong call to help however I could to rebuild. As a father of three daughters, playgrounds all over the city have played such a vital role in our lives, and with the rising cost of playgrounds, I decided to partner with RAK-Louisville to help raise the additional funds needed.”

Andrew, now a student at the University of Cincinnati, has seen RAK do wonders previously and feels positive about this project.

“I am confident that we can raise the money,” he said. “Through Covid, I saw the generosity of the people in our state. Every project that we undertake, I am always meeting people who are working hard to make a difference and being generous with what they have. This seems like a big ask but if we break it down, and if all of us collectively step up, we can do this.”

If you’d like to donate to the Operation Playground project, visit RAKLouisville.com and see the “Epic Act of Kindness” section, or you may write a check to Blue Lick Elementary School (c/o Ms. Beth Johnson), 9801 Blue Lick Road, Louisville, KY 40229. Put “Operation Playground” on memo line. Direct questions to Jon McCallon at jonmccallon@icloud.com.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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