Grant to Lilburn school provides playground space for pre-k students

Camp Creek Elementary Principal Valerie Robinett wanted a better place for her pre-K students to play. So she reached out to the Gwinnett County Public Schools' foundation to money for a new playground.

“We had old equipment that wasn’t age-compliant,” Robinett said. “The pre-K students have their own play area away from the bigger kids and while they had things to play with they didn’t have anything to play on.”

Kelly Herndon Patterson, executive director of the foundation then contacted the Georgia United Credit Union Foundation’s School Crashers program.

Preschool teacher Lisa Dierdorff and parent Chris Giddens wrote the winning proposal letter asking Georgia United to pay for a playground specifically for special-needs students.

The Lilburn school cut the ribbon Monday on a new $12,000 playground that now meets safety standards for the 3- to 5-year-olds in the pre-K class and has some features to accommodate special needs as well. For example, it has play areas at ground level as well as areas that are accessible from stairs and ladders.

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Georgia United Credit Union created the foundation in 2016 to support programs that improve the quality of life for children and families, including School Crashers. It has funded projects at 33 schools in the past six years and is on track to do 10 this school year.

“Camp Creek is in such great shape, the building and classrooms didn’t need anything — everyone is so engaged,” said Kim Wall, director of business and community development for Georgia United. “That’s why we have a variety of ‘crashes;’ this is one of ‘mini’ ones where just one component of the school needs help.”

Although the foundation helps fund school improvements, the road from inspiration to completion can be complicated.

“They can’t just snap their fingers and a week later you have a playground,” said Peggy Arnold, the school’s head custodian who worked closely with Georgia United.    The project began in April, and the squeals of delight from kids enjoying a mid-morning break for recess was proof the work paid off.

Sets of blue and orange paws (the school’s mascot is a tiger cub) show the way to the new structure. And as the youngsters walked single-file along the path, young Greyson Cannatta could barely contain his excitement. “Thank you,” he said to the adults assembled as he rushed toward the new equipment. “This is the best present ever!”

Jolene Kinney’s daughter is in first-grade now at Camp Creek, but she still helps out with the 18 pre-K students. Additional students will be added throughout the school year as they turn 3.

“This is such a great project,” she said watching the kids. “It may seem little to some, but to these kids, it’s huge.”

Benefits of special-needs playgrounds

Getting children with special needs outside is important for their development and growth, says the staff at the Episcopal Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that assists elementary and middle school-age children with special needs:

  • It improves coordination and motor skills.
  • Outdoor play builds self-esteem and improves behavior.
  • They improve their social skills.
  • They advocate for themselves.
  • Their health improves.
  • It increases their attention span and problem-solving skills.
  • Playing outside lowers stress.
  • Source: Episcopal Center for Children

2019-2020 School Crashers recipients

  • Toney Elementary in Decatur received upgrades to multiple areas including a courtyard classroom.
  • Camp Creek Elementary in Lilburn received a pre-K playground.
  • Eton Elementary in Chatsworth received playground improvements.
  • Cousins Middle School in Covington received a music room makeover.
  • East Laurens Elementary in Dublin received a media center makeover.
  • Carver Middle School in Monroe received a media center makeover.
  • Stone Mountain Elementary received a grant from Mohawk carpets.
  • Cohutta Elementary received a grant from Mohawk carpets.
  • Beaverdale Elementary in Dalton received a grant from Mohawk carpets.
  • Briar Vista Elementary in Atlanta received a grant from Mohawk carpets.

Georgia United Credit Union Foundation will be accepting nominations for the 2020-2021 school starting March 1. For complete details, go to

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