Howell Seniors raise funds for an inclusive playground in Genoa Township.

HOWELL — Senior Aidan Ralko Friday was crowned the ultimate survivor at an assembly closing Howell High School’s 15th year of “Senior Survivor,” based on the long-running TV series.

Most importantly, the 16 seniors who participated in the week-long event raised $222,828 to support efforts to complete a Seniors Playground, an inclusive playground planned for Township Park from Genoa. Officials plan to launch the project on May 20 at the park. Over two years, the students raised about $450,000 for the cost of the playground.

“The amount we’ve raised is such a crazy number because we’ve all had a bit of a hard time getting around and trying to fundraise because of COVID and businesses going through a tough year,” said Rako Friday. “So when it came time to go get sponsors and stuff like that, we all hit some decent roadblocks along the way, so to reach such high numbers, it was a shock for all of us. It was amazing.”

In the fall of 2019, Senior Survivor participants were approached by a former Howell Public Schools teacher, whose son has a disability, asking them to consider raising funds for an inclusive playground. The Canton of Genoa offered to join in the effort and provide a location.

16 Howell High School students raised the highest amount on record on the day of the Surviving Seniors Assembly on Friday, April 29, 2022, a total of $222,828.91.

The Township of Genoa is contributing to the cost of site work for the project, which includes items such as excavation and a pathway. Michigan Recreational Construction created the design project.

“The goal of our playground is to provide a safe place for children of all skill levels to play together,” said Dan Perrault, landscape architect for Michigan Recreational Construction. “Various aspects of the playground will be designed to meet the needs of children who have reduced mobility, are autistic, visually impaired or hard of hearing. Everything will be accessible, but the user’s unique abilities will determine what they can do.”

The playground will include nature-inspired and natural elements and textures, such as logs, stumps, ropes, rocks and plants. According to organizers, natural playgrounds provide opportunities for individual exploration and discovery, as well as collaborative play.

Howell's freshman volleyball coach, Elaina Rocco-Hoxie, is recognized at the High School Survivor Assembly on Friday, April 29, 2022, for her involvement in the annual fundraiser, as well as her last day of work.

Senior Survivor 2022

On Friday, Howell High School held a school-wide town hall to announce the total raised and Ralko, who raised more than $10,000 as Team ADRalko, as the winner.

“Since my freshman year I was introduced to this and I’ve watched it every year since… It’s really surreal to even be a part of it and I didn’t really expect to be someone who could to win, but to go that far and then actually win, that’s just amazing and something I can’t describe,” Ralko said.

In the week-long competition, 16 seniors moved into high school. Students collected donations during the day and in the evenings took on various challenges, such as dance and hide-and-seek challenges.

Howell High School senior Aidan Ralko celebrates winning the school's annual Senior Survivor at an assembly Friday, April 29, 2022, but none of the contestants felt a loss as they all raised more than 222,000 $ to build an inclusive playground at Genoa Township Park.

The student who raises the least amount of money each day would be “sent home”.

Additionally, elementary and middle school students also contributed to the fundraising effort.

2021 Surviving Seniors raised $229,000 for the project. Morgan Pasini was the last survivor.

Harold B. McConnell