She carries a torch for helping others: Teen raises funds for playground

A playground wasn’t much use to the community if all kids couldn’t have fun there.

That was the realization Payton Dillon had in the summer of 2013. One of her friends was in a wheelchair, and Payton started questioning why Greenwood’s playgrounds didn’t have equipment to accommodate all children.

So the Greenwood teen went to work correcting the problem.

“I love to help people,” she said.

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Payton spent an entire summer raising money to meet her goal. She spoke to local civic groups and organizations, canvassed the annual Freedom Festival with a bucket collecting change and organized a dine-to-donate event.

In the end, she raised nearly $7,000 to help purchase and install the special swings.

For her commitment to the community and her selfless spirit, Payton has been chosen to represent the county in the Indiana bicentennial torch relay.

“It’s a once-in-a-life experience for me. I’ll never have this chance again,” she said. “A lot of the torchbearers are older, and I’m only 14, so it’s a really cool chance for someone my age.”

Payton, an eighth-grader at Southside Christian School, was 10 when she began working to get the specially adapted swings installed.

She understood the importance of having inclusive places for kids to play. When she was 5, she was diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst, a benign growth the size of an apple in the center of her brain.

As the cyst grew, she lost her ability to jump, go up stairs or sip out of a cup without help. Doctors were able to drain the growth, but it took years of physical therapy before the abilities that she had lost returned.

“I felt really bad that there weren’t any parks around here for her to play at,” Dillon said of her friend who uses a wheelchair. “I took it kind of personally.”

To remedy what she saw as a community problem, Payton wrote a letter to Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers, requesting that the city install accessible swings in one of its parks.

Myers and community relations director Molly Laut responded. They let her know about plans for City Center Park, to be built in Old Town Greenwood on the site of the former pool.

Plans were already in place to have ramps and wheelchair-accessible equipment installed at the new park. Laut suggested she take her cause to the community to explain why these swings would be helpful.

Even as a 10-year-old, Payton wasn’t scared to stand up in front of adults and talk about her vision.

“It was a really long speech that I had wrote. It wasn’t like I was a little kid who was just asking for money. It shared my personal experience,” she said. “I don’t have a problem speaking in front of people.”

By the end of the summer, Payton had raised $6,640 for the project. The adaptive swings were installed, and at the park’s grand opening, she had the honor of cutting the official ribbon.

The recognition was nice, but even better was the chance to see children who otherwise wouldn’t get to play on traditional playground equipment having fun.

“I’m really happy that kids with disabilities can come here. I love it,” she said.

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.