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Girl boosts cause close to her heart

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A 10-year-old Greenwood girl raised thousands of dollars to help fund a playground designed with features for her and other children with special needs.

Payton Dillon wanted Greenwood to have a playground designed for children with special needs, including swings and ramps for a friend who uses a wheelchair. Most parks aren’t fun for children who can’t climb ladders or stairs, and Greenwood needed a place where kids with special needs could play, she said.

She found out the city was building a wheelchair-accessible playground at City Center Park, the city’s newest park, including the swings she was looking for.


Payton wanted to help, so this summer, she carried a bucket around at city events, stopped into local businesses and asked anyone who would listen to donate to the new park, her mother Kathy Dillon said.

The efforts of the fifth-grader from Southwest Elementary School brought in more than just the $6,640 she has raised at community events and by visiting businesses, city officials said.

“We would get checks and change and envelopes full of money, which were the community’s response to her story,” city spokeswoman Molly Laut said.

Payton Dillon wanted the city to have a special needs playground because she wanted a place where she and her friends could have fun, she said.

She was diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst at age 5, causing her physical abilities to regress. Eventually, she was unable to drink from a cup without a lid, jump or climb onto a step without an adult’s help, Kathy Dillon said.

The benign cyst was the size of a large apple in the center of Payton’s brain. Draining the cyst shrank it to the size of a walnut, and she has been able to regain much of the physical abilities she had lost, her mother said. Payton can jump again but still struggles with balance, which means she can’t ride a two-wheeled bike, can’t climb ladders and falls easily when climbing stairs.

She also can’t play soccer or any other sport where she might fall or collide with another player because she could injure her brain, Dillon said.

Payton’s recovery and lingering fragility have helped her notice what the children around her can and can’t do, Dillon said.

City Center Park will be a safe place for Payton to play. She won’t have any trouble walking up the ramps or into the splash pad area, Dillon said. And her friends who use wheelchairs or have autism will have a park in the community where they can safely play, too, she said.

The park will have swings for children who need back support, such as Payton’s friend with cerebral palsy who can’t walk or sit comfortably on a rubber, sling-style swing. The park also will feature ramps and paths that allow wheelchairs to roll easily up to picnic tables and to playground games, such as plastic bongo drums and the tic-tac-toe squares above the slides.

A portion of the cost of the park and splash pad, which is set to open Monday, was paid for with donations. Payton’s summer of fundraising included visits to local businesses, such as Bailey & Wood Financial Group in Greenwood, where she introduced herself and asked the workers for donations.

In June, she carried a bucket and walked from person to person at Freedom Festival, asking for donations and came away with about $270 in cash. She easily started conversations with shoppers at stores and at the dine-to-donate event she planned, her mother said.

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