Pair of Grants Brings Everyone’s Playground Dream One Step Closer To Reality

Nola Byrne and her cousin Stella Horvath exploring Everyone’s Playground in Selinsgrove, PA. Photo courtesy of Kellie Flock.

By Steve Hanf

Shrieks of laughter. Squeals of delight. Imaginations running wild in make-believe worlds of pirate ships, fairytale castles and rockets.

Playgrounds provide a vibrant spark to every community, which is why so many people are excited about Everyone’s Playground. Led by the Surf Pediatric Foundation, Everyone’s Playground will be an inclusive, accessible space for students of all abilities at Kitty Hawk Elementary School (KHES).  The playground will be open to all – students, summer visitors, young kids, the young at heart – anyone and everyone.

Last year, the Outer Banks Community Foundation (OBCF) provided a Community Enrichment Grant to the Surf Pediatric Foundation’s playground project. Then, the Karl and Debby Daniels Family Fund made an additional gift to the project. The awards have helped bring the playground closer to its goal of fully funding the $800,000 project.

Debby Daniels explains that every year, she and her husband each pick a project to donate to, and when she learned about Everyone’s Playground, she knew what to do with their OBCF-managed fund. The Daniels’ son attended Kitty Hawk Elementary, they have grandchildren there, and Debby also knew of Kellie Flock, who is helping to lead the effort.

Plus, Debby’s best friend since college, Susan Gard Nelson, is a retired Dare County social worker who continues to work with special needs children to this day.

“I wanted to do something to honor my best friend and I felt like this was something she would be really interested in,” Debby says. “I felt like she deserved the honor, and it will be a blessing for the kids when they get this done.”

When talking about the many donors who have supported the project, Flock and project organizer Macey Chovaz say the funding they have received is about much more than money. Of course, the funds helped immensely, but the advice about the grant-writing process provided by OBCF helped open other doors. But perhaps the biggest boost comes from OBCF’s belief in the mission.

“Once you say that the Community Foundation is behind you, I don’t want to say it legitimizes you, but people take notice,” Macey explains. “It’s like, ‘Yes, we felt yours was a worthy project.’”

Adds Kellie: “It’s not as scary, knowing that we have the backing of people that have some clout in the community.”

That kind of reassurance was powerful because, well, the members of the Everyone’s Playground Steering Committee never saw themselves as fundraisers – they think of themselves as just a group of parents who saw a need and decided to address it.

Friends Nola Byrne and Penny Krieg at Kitty Hawk Elementary School’s current playground. Photo courtesy of Audra Krieg.

Five years ago, a couple of sweet kindergartners, Nola and Penny, stopped at the edge of the KHES playground and were puzzled over how to best proceed. Nola’s wheelchair was not going to be able to navigate the mulch … and that didn’t seem right at all to her friend, Penny.

The innocent questions they raised weren’t new, of course, but this time, a model for how to address the issue was right in the Flock family’s back yard. In Kellie’s hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, a community project called Everyone’s Playground was being built. Organizers there shared all the details about this accessible space and how well-received it was by folks from miles around. They also happily shared the name.

“They were absolutely thrilled that somebody else would carry on the tradition of that inclusivity,” Kellie says. “Each time we visit, it is amazing to see the impact it has on so many different people, and not just the children with special needs. I’ve talked to grandparents bringing their grandchildren who are thrilled that they can be more involved with their play. That multigenerational piece is really neat to see.”

Nola, her cousin and her grandfather take advantage of the universal design of Everyone’s Playground to spend some quality time together.

Inclusivity, after all, casts a wide net.

“This playground was initially motivated by two kids not being able to play together, but the true inclusivity and universal design of the space makes it user-friendly to all people,” Macey says. “From the grandparents who need a safe space for their grandkids to play, to the families who have kids in strollers, it will be a unique space not just in Dare County, but also in Eastern North Carolina.”

While Everyone’s Playground will serve students at Kitty Hawk Elementary during school hours, the Surf Pediatric Foundation identified a broader, community park aspect the project offers. After the bell rings, on weekends and during the summer months, visitors from near and far will have a special space to explore.

Technically, Everyone’s Playground is two playgrounds. Currently, KHES has one playground for younger students and another for older kids, but plans call for both to be replaced with smooth, soft surfacing and unique equipment for people of all abilities. With half the funding now secured, work may begin on one of the playgrounds this summer so construction doesn’t impact the school day.

“It’s kind of neat because you get two defined spaces,” Kellie says. “There’s some fluidity and movement back and forth. Kids like to move from place to place when they’re playing, so this gives them more options.”

Figuring out all the moving parts – how much money has come in, what the construction timeline might look like – is the next hurdle for Everyone’s Playground.

“If we had a big uptick in donations in the next month or two, there would be no balancing of moving parts. It would be very seamless,” Kellie says. “We just can’t predict that, so we have to move forward with what we can do now and build on it.”

Seeing the project begin will be a monumental moment for this dedicated duo. As Macey puts it, “Fundraising is not in either one of our wheelhouses, but I think we have the bandwidth and desire to make this happen.” They’ve gotten plenty of on-the-job training about fundraising and grant writing.

Along the way, they’ve also learned something else.

“We’ve seen how generous people can be,” Kellie says. “What started as a very daunting, overwhelming task is now something that we can 100% see being realistic.”

Nola Byrne at Everyone’s Playground in Selinsgrove, PA.

Obviously, the project will help children like Nola have a safe space to play. But Kellie and Macey see the impact stretching far beyond Everyone’s Playground and lasting well beyond elementary school.

Inspiring others. Teaching empathy. Helping children become, as Kellie puts it, “better humans.”

“Knowing the organic interaction that’s going to happen on the playground with these young kids interacting with kids who are potentially different from them, that’s going to translate into interactions in their community and in their future lives,” Macey says. “That’s highly motivating for me.”

That’s why every donation to the Surf Pediatric Foundation, no matter how large or small, has been so rewarding for them to see.

The Outer Banks Community Foundation’s motto is “Connecting people who care with causes that matter,” and in this case, OBCF President and CEO Chris Sawin says the board’s decision to award a grant was an easy one to make.

“Inclusivity is at the heart of what the Outer Banks Community Foundation stands for, and Everyone’s Playground is a perfect example of that,” says Sawin. “It’s really hard not to be excited about what the dedicated volunteers of the Everyone’s Playground project have envisioned.”

For more information about Everyone’s Playground, and how you can support the project, please visit

If you are interested in creating a charitable fund, or contributing a grantmaking fund, visit or call the Community Foundation at 252-423-3003. Funds can be created to memorialize loved ones, support a favorite issue or charity, provide scholarships, and more.  Anyone can learn about or donate to any existing fund online at