Kankakee "Re-Gifts" Dave's Gazebos
Kankakee's Daily Journal;
the Chicago Tribune February 4 and again March 17;
CBS 2 news Chicago at 11 and again at 5 o'clock
an initial report by Joe Barlow of CBS and a second piece on the chair;
Radio segments with Kass and Cohn and "Big" John Howell of WLS 890
An AP Wire story picked up by newspapers across the world, including the New York Times and even London's Daily Mail!
We have even been invited to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman (expected to air March 24 or 25), and NPR's "This American Life" is featuring KHS in a story!
Now we are requesting community support to help us finish the job.
In 1999 Kankakee was rated last out of 354 metropolitan areas, and David Lettermen sent twin gazebos as a gag gift to mock us. We know it was intended as a joke, but Dave's jabs have had real consequences. When our class took a trip to a play, teachers from other schools looked down on us: "You're from Kankakee? What are you doing here?" Our friends in neighboring communities look down on our home.
The Kankakee we know today doesn't match its reputation from a time when we were toddlers. Our goal is to replace these gazebos and send a rocking chair back to Letterman--built from the old gazebos and embellished with symbols of Kankakee. Presenting Letterman this “retirement gift” on his show will help us share the positives of Kankakee, and show we have been constantly improving since his original “gift” 15 years ago.
According to Forbes, we are now ranked 9th in the cost of doing business, 2nd in job growth in small cities, and 11% below the national average for cost of living, which means that we are now on the rise, and the prosperity that Kankakee has seen these past years is only going to keep growing in the future. Promoting these facts and attracting positive attention to the town with community projects like ours will help the process and keep Kankakee steadily on the upswing.
However, as high school students, funding presents one of the biggest obstacles to our plans. Local donors have already promised roughly $10,000 in supplies and materials to replace the gazebo we took down with a community stage and artistic public space, and we are thrilled that we were able to inspire such an amazing community project! Now we've set our sights higher: we want to help revitalize a neighboorhood on the east side of Kankakee by building a family picnic pavilion at a new park there, to complement the existing playground and landscaping. With your support, we can make it happen!
We hope you will join our team as we work for change in Kankakee. As a token of our gratitude, we have also established donor levels for this campaign. Please provide necessary information with your donation!
In early planning meetings, students organized themselves into committees to complete different tasks
Setting goals took a lot of discussion and debate
A class hiking trip helped build teamwork
We are also excited that other great stories are being told about Kankakee! Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Schmich is writing a followup story in the Chicago Tribune--so you might want to pick up a copy tomorrow! We are also excited that NPR's "This American Life" will visit the classroom tomorrow to record class in session and to interview some of the students about the perception of Kankakee--and how it doesn't always match the reality. This will be a much more in-depth story broadcast to millions internationally, and the show is also the most-downloaded podcast on iTunes! Other media will follow as well. Keep an eye out tonight for another longer piece by CBS 3 in Champaign; we'll share the link on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Our #1 goal throughout the project has been to bring positive attention to Kankakee, and it's safe to say: Mission Accomplished! With all that's been going on, our focus has turned away from replacing the gazebo for the time being, but that is certainly not forgotten. Here is an update on what's been happening:
Inspired by the students' efforts, several businesses in Kankakee have offered major donations of money or materials to fund a replacement for the gazebo, among them Homestar Bank and Peddinghaus, which fabricates steel beams. In fact, we received so many offers that a simple gazebo began to give way to bigger ideas. Since a stage is set up where the gazebo stood every year for the Merchant Street Music Fest, one proposal suggested that we might build a replacement that could serve as a stage for community events and school rallies, but also as a nice artistic place to relax at other times. The students voted in favor of this idea--but weren't big fans of the proposed design. An architect came to visit class and met with a group of students to get a sense of what they wanted to see and to consider all of the possible uses. After some intense discussion and almost two hours of studying aerial photos and blueprints, the architect went back to the drawing board to make their vision a reality, with those plans to be revealed very soon!
Of course, while that's all very exciting, there is still the matter of the second gazebo we planned to replace. After the Late Show had already decided to come to Kankakee, the Park District decided to keep the gazebo in Cobb Park--it is, after all, a beautiful addition. Now we'll have one gazebo to remind us of our past, and a brand new Kankakee-built community stage to point the way forward. As a class, we were then faced with a decision: what should we do with the funds raised to replace that second gazebo, now that it didn't need replacing?
At the start of our campaign, we said that funds would go first to rebuild the gazebos, second to fund a trip to the Late Show, and finally to the students as scholarship money. Well, the gazebo that is down will be replaced (and then some!) with offline community donations, the Late Show is coming to us, and that left scholarship money. The question was raised in class, and after discussion the students narrowed it down to two main options: accept a scholarship that would amount to over $100 per student, or reinvest that money in improving Kankakee. Not surprisingly for this group, they overwhelmingly voted to give back.
The question then became, what project could they do that would have the most impact? There are a lot of options, but in the end they decided to build a picnic pavilion in MLK park, a new public space on the east side of town, to make it more useful and appealing to families and help revitalize a struggling neighborhood. The idea began as a gazebo, but as one student pointed out, "You can't fit your family in a gazebo!" Instead, the new pavilion will provide a space for family reunions, graduation parties, and other events to complement the landscaping and playground already there. Another KHS student, not involved with this project, has asked about complementing their work with a project he is completing to earn his Eagle Scout rank, by helping construct landscaping, tables, or other improvements. As we hoped, this project is already inspiring others to give back!
We intend to use the donations collected here, as well as those delivered to us at the high school, to fund this new pavilion and help revitalize a section of town that could really use it. We believe this work is very much in keeping with the spirit of the project and will provide a community space for generations to come. However, we also realize that the donations we solicited were originally intended to replace a gazebo, and that circumstances have led us to change those plans. Given the change in plans, if you donated and would like us to refund your donation, please message us and we will be happy to issue one. Otherwise, we will dedicate your donation to this new project and continue to work for growth and change in Kankakee!
Thank you for your support. May it inspire a new generation to take pride in their community and give themselves in service to others!
OOPS! I just discovered a setting that had been hiding the reward levels we established for the campaign! Anyone who contributed ANY amount already will be recognized on a memorial plaque included on the gazebo's replacement, in addition to the NEXT TEN people who contribute ANY AMOUNT. And anyone who already met the requirements for a donor level will receive that recognition, even if they didn't know it at the time!
Share this around and let's get our next ten supporters lined up today!
First, thank you for your support! We've been overwhelmed by the response and can hardly believe that one replacement gazebo is already mostly funded! More on that later...
The biggest news, of course, is that the Late Show has accepted our proposal and will be sending a crew to Kankakee to film a segment for the show! Although our original goal was to travel to New York to present the chair personally, this will be WAY BETTER for Kankakee because we get to actually SHOW all of the things we love to a national audience instead of just talk about them. We are extremely excited and the mayor will be visiting our class next week to personally thank the students for everything they've done.
Because of the overwhelming positive response and the publicity we've received, many generous people have lent their support--among them a group in Kankakee that was awarded a grant to improve the downtown area. They have promised to use that grant to MATCH every donation we receive, meaning your gift was just DOUBLED! With their support, we are now thinking even bigger: instead of a gazebo, we are exploring plans to build an outdoor pavilion and public space that will serve as a stage to host outdoor concerts and events - see the picture to get an idea of what we're thinking. If we meet our goal here, these students will have had a much bigger impact than they could ever have imagined when they started planning back in September! They will be able to come back to Kankakee with their kids, point to the pavilion, look around at all the new development, and say: we built that.
And thank you all for being a part of it.
--The American Experience class at KHS