Children in Pembroke, Georgia, will soon enjoy a new, safe playground thanks to the efforts of Bryan County 4-H, the city of Pembroke, the Pembroke Downtown Development Authority and a $25,000 grant from State Farm Neighborhood Assist.
A youth-led philanthropic program, State Farm Neighborhood Assist annually funds 40 community-identified projects across the nation. The winning projects are selected through public voting. In the program’s four years, 160 causes have received $4 million to enact change in their communities.
Two causes in Georgia made the program’s top 40 this year and both are in the Savannah area—the Pembroke playground and a backpack food program for at-risk children in Effingham County. Each project received more than 86,000 votes.
“The State Farm representative asked us how a community of 2,200 beat out much larger cities like Atlanta and Detroit,” said Trish West, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent in Bryan County who is on the playground project team.
West encouraged her local 4-H’ers, their families and her 4-H colleagues to vote for the playground project. They, in turn, shared the project through Facebook and asked their family and friends to vote.
“We may only be a community of 2,200, but we are part of a much larger 4-H community,” she said.
UGA Extension Dean Laura Perry Johnson was amazed to see “a project from a small town in Georgia win out over projects submitted from major cities."
"I'm excited to see county agents vested in looking for resources to support the great programing they do in counties across the state,” she said. “This State Farm grant for a new playground is a great example of the passion our agents have for what they do and the support we get, received through the public's votes.”
Pembroke’s playground was recently dismantled due to safety concerns. “Due to the economic conditions over the past few years, there (was) no available funding to replace the equipment,” said Pembroke City Councilman Tiffany Walraven. “So our children (were) left with no safe options for play nor playground access within a 10-mile radius.”
The total equipment cost for the new playground is between $35,000 and $45,000. “The $25,000 will make a significant impact on fundraising efforts and will allow us to move forward,” West said. “The non-profit organizations that have teamed together to promote outdoor play will be working with local businesses and citizens to provide the remaining funding balance.”
The playground project was one of 3,800 applications submitted to State Farm this year. The State Farm Youth Advisory Board reviewed these submissions and selected 200 finalists. Then, more than 192,000 people cast 6.2 million votes via Facebook to help top projects earn the $25,000 grants.
The top 40 causes represent 27 states and range from projects aimed at helping underprivileged kids to programs providing food to communities. Communities that will receive funding range in size from Pembroke, with a population of approximately 2,600, to New York City.
“I am honored that a community of our size will receive such a large grant to help with our playground project,” Walraven said. “I received word that we had voters supporting our cause from all over our country and from countries that included Japan, Saudi Arabia, England and Canada. Despite our size, when people work together for a cause, anything is possible.”