Sarah Stultz: Event touched this tired volunteer’s heart

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

I woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday and couldn’t go back to sleep.

I didn’t need to be at Edgewater Park until 8:30 a.m. when one of our first vendors was slated to arrive, but I got up and started going through all our preparations in my mind.

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I had been working diligently with a small committee for about a month or two to organize the ins and outs of the Let Inclusion Fly Kite Festival, and the day had finally arrived.

I was nervous but excited, and all I could do was hope that other people would be excited about the event and our goal to raise money to bring an inclusive playground to Albert Lea.

We started fundraising for the playground in late summer of 2021, but to this day, we still come across people who have never heard of what we are doing. I was excited about the opportunity to create more awareness about the project and, of course, to raise money.

On top of that, we had an amazing opportunity that all funds raised at the event would be matched up to $50,000 because of some generous individuals in our community.

When I pulled up to Edgewater Park, I could see the staff of Great American Kites & Events were already there, setting up their kites, their products for sale and a row of flags.

Our committee and a handful of other volunteers set up the tents, arranged the picnic tables, guided the food trucks to their appropriate locations, set out the trash cans and donation bins and hung up signs, and before we knew it, a little more than two hours later, the first bus of attendees began to arrive.

The rest of the day went quickly, as we welcomed in hundreds of people from both inside and outside of our community to the park to witness these larger-than-life kites and to take part in some other family fun.

I was at a table most of the day that explained about the park and what people could expect once it was built. I heard about the need for a park like this in our community from the people who stopped to talk with me and about how excited they were to see it come to fruition.

I also got to witness people’s generosity as they put in donations large and small into the bin at my table. I saw organizations put in money, as well as parents, grandparents and even children themselves who brought in their own hard-earned allowance money to give to the cause.

A few times throughout the day, I took a break from my post and walked around to take photos, to watch some of our community leaders get dunked in the dunk tank and to mingle with people who were there. I still cannot get over all the smiles I saw and the feelings of inclusion for all who were there. I was happy to see many people there, including the many precious children who will benefit from this playground.

What I witnessed touched this tired volunteer’s heart and left me motivated to continue to reach our overall fundraising goal and bring this project to fruition.

Throughout the day, we raised over $27,000. We will continue collecting money through the end of this week to try to reach the $50,000 match.

If you feel inclined to give, you can donate to the Albert Lea Chamber Foundation at 132 N. Broadway.

Though the effort is not done, we are getting much closer thanks to all of you.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune.