Saturday, June 23, 2012
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Atlanta Park District celebrates $25,000 grant with a picnic in the park

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[June 23, 2012]  ATLANTA -- On Friday there was an entire pavilion full of folks at the Atlanta City Park. It was a time of celebration as the Atlanta Park District has won a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance in Bloomington.

The grant is part of State Farm's new "Cause an Effect" grants program where 40 "causes" across the United States were selected to receive funding based on voting conducted on Facebook.

The park district was entered into the contest as the result of a conversation between Debbie Siltman and Leigh Ann Barr.

Siltman is one of the caretakers at the park and devotes a lot of time to keeping the park clean and neat for area patrons. But she has some challenges because some of the playground equipment is outdated and in need of a little repair, if not replacement. There is also a barn on the grounds where there is a kitchen area and restrooms. It, too, could use a little TLC.

Siltman knew that Barr was a State Farm employee working in Bloomington. One day she talked to Barr and asked her if she would consider entering the park into the Cause an Effect program.

Barr, who lives in Atlanta, was happy to take on the project. She wrote a letter explaining the park needed new equipment and money for some repairs.

There were 3,000 submissions for the grants but only 40 available. Once Atlanta made the first cut, Barr said she set to work getting the word out that local folks needed to go to the State Farm-sponsored Facebook page and vote for Atlanta. Each person could vote up to 10 times per day.

Barr said she took fliers to the town post office, dropped them off at the Atlanta Market, took them to the grade school and asked that it be included in daily announcements at the high school.

Michael Schmidt, the park district's board president, said that he, too, started getting the word out to everyone he knew. He posted a request on his personal Facebook page for all of his "FB friends" to go and vote. He said even some of his friends from out of state cast votes for the Atlanta Park.

Barr said that in the end, Atlanta came in 22nd out of 40 in its number of votes. The total votes received for the Atlanta Park came to 18,000. Barr commented on this, saying it was pretty remarkable that a town of approximately 1,800 could come up with that many votes.

Friday at noon, Jim Slaven, public affairs specialist for State Farm, arrived with the larger-than-life check for the Atlanta Park. Slaven said he wasn't surprised at the turnout for the event as it is something he's been seeing nearly everywhere he goes.

He said one of the things about this contest that has really impressed him is that in most cases the winners are small communities. He said it is impressive because these folks have dedicated themselves to getting the word out to their friends, casting all the votes they possibly could and making sure that though they are few in number, they were being heard.

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Slaven said Atlanta was included in the cut from 3,000 to the top 100 thanks to the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. The board consists of young people ages 17-24 from all over the country who have proven to be community-minded. They were the ones who went through the list and, based on the information provided by people like Barr, chose 100 causes that would become eligible for the grants.

Those 100 then vied for the grants by collecting the most votes. In the end only 40 grants were awarded.

At the picnic Friday all the guests were treated to hot dogs, with the dogs and buns being donated by the Atlanta Market. The park board provided a side to go with the dog and drinks.

State Farm agent Chris Coyne was on hand to help celebrate and at the end of the day worked with Barr to draw names for a wide variety of prizes, including State Farm atlases, totes, travel mugs and thermoses, coffee cups, and other items. Also donating to the door prizes were several local businesses. Chubby's restaurant donated four gift certificates, Casey's donated two, the Atlanta Pool donated days of free swimming, and the Red Wing Bowling Alley donated free games. Other prizes included a dozen golf balls, a couple of folding lawn chairs and a bundle of kitchen utensils. Rick Hamm State Farm Agency also donated 12 free movie tickets for guests to see "Tintin" at the Lincoln Theater.

The park district had also set up a board with two examples of new playground equipment that could be purchased with the money. Guests were asked to vote on which concept they preferred. In the end they chose a style called Climbers Nook. Barr said the board may not choose that exact playground, but when they go shopping it will give them an idea of what would be preferred.

And in a last-minute announcement, Barr shared that she'd heard from Brett Goodman of Goodman Excavating that he was going to donate the labor to help with tearing out old equipment and spreading new bark as needed.

When the day was drawing to an end, Coyne asked that everyone join in a photo with the oversized check that Slayton had brought. Almost everyone there was happy to join in as they gathered on and around the stage area at the park to mark the day in history with a photo.


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