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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Rachel Ritchie

Rachel Ritchie

Vine Grove, Kentucky

Rachel Ritchie, 14, of Vine Grove, Ky., an eighth-grader at James T. Alton Middle School, spearheaded a five-year campaign that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a playground where all children – including those with disabilities – can play and have fun. When she was 9, Rachel would play at a local playground with her friends, but “saw disabled children not being able to play, and I thought it wasn’t fair,” she said. She realized that no one was focused on addressing this problem, so “I just knew I had to do my part in making sure everyone, no matter his or her ability, got to participate in play.”

Rachel proposed the idea of a “playground for everyone” to her parents, and then to her town’s city council, which agreed to help her. With additional support from her family, friends, community organizations and local and national businesses, Rachel began promoting a series of fundraisers, including car and bike shows, 5K runs, motorcycle rides, golf scrambles, benefit dinners and picnics, and T-shirt and bracelet sales. By last summer, enough money had been raised through events and donations to begin building Rachel’s playground in a city park. The playground, which officially opened on August 26, 2017, features a curved balance beam, a curved rock wall, swings, two zip lines, sensory panels, a stationary cycler, a roller slide, a cozy dome, “talk tubes,” and a rubberized base for easy movement of wheelchairs and walkers. “My life,” she said, “is impacted every day by the smiles on the kids’ faces whenever I visit the playground.”