New playground will develop STEM skills in young kids thanks to partnership with Community Foundation of Van Buren County

The way Amanda Manning-Maras sees it, the hot, humid weather and hard work earlier this month did nothing to deter a successful kickoff to the construction of the new STEM Early Education Technology Center and Outdoor Classroom and Playscape at the Van Buren County Hospital in Keosauqua, Iowa.

“We had the perfect mix of people,” said Manning-Maras, who has been at the center of organizing the project from the beginning. The second and final volunteer weekend will be held in July.

The playscape is funded, in part, with a grant from the Community Foundation of Van Buren, a component fund of the Quad Cities Community Foundation. The project will help to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in young children. It also includes a technology center comprised of an interactive whiteboard and computer station within the preschool classroom, which will be used by teachers for presenting classroom lessons, literacy-based activities and educational games.

Manning-Maras’ father, Matt Manning, is an Affiliate Advisory Board member of the Community Foundation of Van Buren County. He is the son of Evelyn Manning, who passed away last August and is the founder of the John A. and Evelyn Ovrom Manning Early Childhood Endowment, a fund at the Community Foundation. The project is also receiving support from county endowment funds, and multiple funds set up by community businesses that are designated for the Van Buren Community Impact Fund.

“The grant—and this project—is a wonderful, significant investment for this community,” said Dana Berggren, Programs Associate at the Quad Cities Community Foundation. “It represents a great way in which donors can partner with their Affiliate Advisory Board to make a big impact. And it represents how people and organizations can come together to enhance their community.”

The playscape includes a climbing wall, planter boxes, a stage for literacy activities, a large sandbox, and an arched wooden bridge with a secret tunnel. “There are a lot of things even adults would want to play with,” Manning-Maras joked.

The idea for the playscape came after a family trip to Minnesota where Manning-Maras and her husband saw a similar play set. Manning-Maras wondered about doing the same thing at the Van Buren child care center where her daughter attends. Manning-Maras mentioned it to her daughter’s daycare director before meeting with the company that builds the playscapes to talk about their vision. “We went big,” Manning-Maras said. “Once we saw the plan, we were pretty hooked.”

Manning-Maras’ father suggested to her that they apply to the Community Foundation of Van Buren County for a grant to help fund the project. The timing of the request was perfect, he said, because there was available funding and the board members were receptive to the idea. A total of $20,340 was approved.

“The community has reacted very positive and the board members are all very excited about it,” Manning said. “It was an easy sell that will benefit our community.”

Keosauqua, a small community with a population around 1,000, will benefit from the addition as much as the 70 kids who attend the child care center. “It wouldn’t have happened without the Community Foundation,” Manning-Maras said. “It’s exciting because it will give so many kids in this town the STEM skills our society encourages today, and it will have a positive impact on the kids here.”

Manning agreed.

“Their minds are so fertile at this age,” he said. “This is a really nice project.”

 Learn more about the Community Foundation of Van Buren County, a component fund of the Community Foundation, by clicking here.