Persisting in Imagination
Lucas Fritsche loves to roam around his family’s farm that is just outside his backyard in Perry County, Mo. This experience of backyard exploration is something he wanted to bring to all children, through building an inclusive playground in Perryville.
The idea came to him one day when he was nine years old, playing with one of his friends at recess. His friend, Lucas says, “Couldn’t really play much on the playground.” Lucas wanted to do something to change that.
“I asked my principal, ‘Why can’t you add equipment that my friend can play on?’ She said, ‘You could raise the money if you want, but you have to talk to [a parent organization].’ Well, I did the exact thing.”
Lucas and his parents, John and Jennifer Fritsche, talked to the school’s parent organization, Parents Involved in Education (PIE), complete with a Powerpoint presentation Lucas insisted on showing. The board agreed to help raise the funds; later, a tax bond also passed, and the superintendent agreed to make the improvements as they improved the school, Jennifer says. Then the mayor heard about the project at an SB 40 board meeting, which works through tax funds to support services for individuals with developmental disabilities. After seeing a video Lucas had posted on Facebook about the project, he asked if Lucas would like to build a new playground for the City of Perryville for all children to enjoy.
“Now when the mayor messaged us, I knew we were going to build a playground,” Lucas says.
That was four years ago. To date, they have raised $448,000 of their $500,000 goal to build Lucas and Friends Backyard Adventures Playground in two phases through hosting a variety of fundraisers, including T-shirt sales, a side-by-side raffle, a golf tournament, a 5K and dinner auctions, among others. They have received grants and county park and SB 40 tax funds. A local business donated $100,000. Lucas, one of the first donors, donated $1,500 from the money he made selling his steers at the fair.
Lucas’ uncle owns a concrete business, and through it, he and John have donated all of their labor while completing the concrete work. The walls are now finished, and the next step is pouring the concrete pad. After that, the playground equipment they have ordered can be brought in. When warmer weather comes in the spring, the rubber floor will be glued in.
And that’s what Lucas is most excited for: the treehouse with ramps going up into it with a hammock below. There will also be ziplines, and Lucas hopes in Phase Two to include a space “where people like me” can go to, in order to relax when they feel “overstressed” so they don’t have to leave the playground in order to feel calm again. With his vision, persistence and passion leading the way, Lucas has worked with a 12-person board to make his idea reality. Along the way, his dad says he has learned hard work and patience, especially when facing obstacles beyond his control, such as rain.
“It takes a lot of help, don’t it?” John asks Lucas. “We’ve had a lot of help from the community, the committee.”
Lucas says he has, at times, felt “very much” overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. He says he’s felt worried it won’t get finished or that it will “be a disaster.” What gives him the courage to continue moving forward, he says, is thinking that someday he will get it finished. It also helps, he says, to remember what he’s doing this for: to help his friends.
His friends aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the playground, however; it will stand as a testament to Lucas’ empathy, imagination and perseverance for generations to come.
“We’ve had a lot of families and people with disabilities that are very thankful for what we’re bringing to Perryville,” Jennifer says. “They’re excited and tell us how important it will be to their life and what they’ve never had and will have now.”
For people with big ideas they want to pursue, Lucas offers some words of wisdom.
“Follow your imagination, and be true to yourself,” he says. “Follow [your idea through] to the very end.”
As for what’s next, Lucas is open.
“After the playground? I don’t really know [what comes next],” he says. “Just everything — whatever life gives to me.”