West Virginia kids have heart

FAIRMONT, W.Va.— As the little girl pulled herself onto the platform, her mother reached out.

"No, Momma, me do it by myself," the child said.

And then the 3-year-old, who suffers from spina bifida, did something she had never done before: enjoy time on playground equipment without her mother's help.

"She could never play on playgrounds because she couldn't step," volunteer Susan Sandor told BASS Times. "Her mother had to do everything for her, but on this equipment, she was able to do it all by herself. If you could have seen that little child maneuvering through that playground — it was heartwarming."

Sandor said the incident happened during the ribbon-cutting for a special-needs playground, a $100,000 project Sandor initiated.

The child was able to experience such independence thanks to Sandor's idea and a group of youth from the Short Cast Bassmasters of Washington County, W.Va., who stepped up to help put the playground together.

"Those kids worked hard and did a great job," she said of the six youth who spent 10 hours on the project last summer. "The conditions we worked in were horrendous. There was a heat advisory that day, and it was well over 90 degrees. The humidity was near 100 percent."

The youth effort was organized when West Virginia Federation Nation Conservation Director Jim Summers learned about the construction project and approached the state youth director, John Garcia, who presented the idea at one of the youth club's meetings.

"They vote on what they do, and when they heard about this project, they voted to help out," Summers said. "They made the decision themselves."

However, the project involved much more than just showing up and nailing a few boards because the playground had to be designed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

"For safety reasons, every board laid had to be routed because these kids would be sliding across the platforms," Sandor said. "It was a very tedious job. It was good, hard physical labor."

Despite the heat and the long day, Summers said there were no complaints.

"They enjoyed doing it," he said. "They thought it was a worthwhile project."

Sandor said the attitude of these youngsters surprised many of the adults involved in the construction project.

"It was astounding to a lot of us that there were young folks out there willing to do that," she said. "They were marvelous."

Summers said he wasn't surprised because community service is emphasized by the state Federation Nation members who work with the Short Cast Bassmasters.

"We try to instill in our kids not only fishing, but that you've also got to be a part of your community," Summers said. "It's good that we teach these kids how to fish, but we also need to teach them there's more to life than themselves."

And this project was simply a slam dunk.

"It's something we couldn't resist," he said. "Anyone with a heart would want to be involved with this."