Ellie Jean Project, Carthage Elementary Building a Playground for All | News

Brandon and Leslie Clothier spent four years raising money for their nonprofit’s first big project.

When they received the long-awaited call last week that almost two tonnes of suitable playground equipment would arrive at Carthage Primary School on Wednesday, it was almost like fate. But they feared it would take another few years to unload everything.

The Clothiers’ eldest daughter, Ellie, was born prematurely on March 9, 2014. Now a student in Carthage, Ellie lives with several severe disabilities, including cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Brandon, a teacher and coach at New Century Middle School, and Leslie, a county probation officer, welcomed their second child, Joe, two years later.

It wasn’t long before they started looking for a place where the siblings could play together. But standard playground equipment offers nothing for a child who can’t stand, let alone run and climb. Even if it was, the traditional mulch stops Ellie’s wheelchair in its tracks.

So the Clothiers founded the Ellie Jean Project in 2017 with an ambitious goal: to convert every public playground in Moore County into a place where Ellie and other children with disabilities can just be kids, playing alongside their friends and siblings. and valid sisters.

Leslie Clothier passes equipment to volunteers. The Ellie Jean project starts at the primary school of Carthage. Playground equipment arrived Wednesday morning and volunteers helped unload the 18-wheeler. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

They were inspired by the $2.3 million Sassafras Children’s Playground in Raleigh, which offers a wide deck for wheelchair access, support swings on most equipment, and ground-level structures. floors that allow children to use their upper body to pull themselves up and down. .

The family also enjoys visiting Kiwanis Family Park in Sanford, but wanted to provide equally inclusive options for families in Moore County.

It’s been slow: church hot dog sales, motorcycle rallies, fundraising at Christmas light shows.

“Moore County and Lee County made this possible. We didn’t have big donors,” Brandon Clothier said. “We didn’t have big checks cashed. It was a lot of hard-earned money by a lot of kind-hearted people.

Last year, the Ellie Jean Project and the Carthage Elementary Parent Teacher Organization partnered to purchase three new equipped playground structures for students of all mobility backgrounds.

Tessa Davis, the school’s social worker and president of the PTO, had noticed that students with special needs at the school were restricted in their outdoor activities.

“I knew it had to be something we fundraise for. They need playground equipment. If I was a parent in this class, I would want my kid to have something to play on,” she said.

“That’s where it started, because I just felt like every kid should have that.”

Last May, the order was placed for a wheelchair swing, a double zip line with a secure chair on one side and a merry-go-round. Ellie Jean Project and Carthage PTO cut the $37,000 cost almost in half.

The swing components arrived in November. After several COVID-19 delays, the tractor-trailer with the rest arrived from Missouri on Ellie’s eighth birthday. Leslie Clothier put out a call last week asking fellow law enforcement to contribute a few hours to the offload.

Between first responders from Carthage Fire and Rescue and football coaches and athletes from Union Pines showing up on a drizzly Wednesday morning, it took less than 30 minutes.

“It’s just special that this is the school our daughter attends and kind of where it all started. It’s nice that the first EJP stamp is here,” said Brandon Clothier.

“It’s a coincidence that we got the phone call that said, ‘Hey, the gear is coming,’ and it’s his birthday.”

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The Ellie Jean project starts at the primary school of Carthage. Playground equipment arrived Wednesday morning and volunteers helped unload the 18-wheeler. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

The new play equipment is expected to be installed over Spring Break, so it will be a few more weeks before Ellie herself can strap in to the ride for a ride. It took six men to unload this piece of red molded plastic, which includes three seats, two with harnesses and standing space.

“Our goal was to have gear that everyone could use together, so it’s inclusive,” Davis said. “Anyone in a wheelchair, on a walker, anything, they can use it with their able-bodied peers.”

The Ellie Jean Project is planning a groundbreaking celebration for the new gear and motorcycle ride fundraiser on April 30. Les Clothiers are currently working on installing similar equipment at Hillcrest Park in Carthage.

Harold B. McConnell