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Friday, Feb. 07, 2014

Artist and students collaborate for kids at Ronald McDonald House

The Kansas City Star

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A big wooden owl with dance music and disco lights. A quiet hutch for reading a story. A little house with a peg board and marker caps for pegs.

That’s what came when Shawnee artist Chris Duh and kids from the Raymore-Peculiar school district collaborated on a new play space for the Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City.

The 20- by 26-foot area, created mostly with donated materials from a Lowe’s and Hallmark, plus money from an anonymous donor, opened recently for families staying at the house located on Hospital Hill. The Ronald McDonald House provides a place to stay for families whose kids are facing serious illnesses.

Duh (pronounced Doo) worked with fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from Lezlie Waltz’s gifted class on the project over several months to come up with a play space that includes both high- and low-energy areas, plus some inspirational music and messages.

For high-energy fun, kids can go inside the 8-foot-tall owl and turn on some peppy music by touching the shiny metal inside.

That owl was inspired by nature and a co-worker, said Duh. An owl was one of the first animals Duh saw after moving into his home on Black Swan Lake, he said. The design of the play space’s owl is modeled after one made by Duh’s colleague, Tom Wallen, at Hallmark. Duh is principal designer at Hallmark’s Kaleidoscope.

In addition to his Kaleidoscope work, Duh has designed donor walls at several other Ronald McDonald Houses in other cities.

The project was the result of a timely coincidence. Waltz’s class was looking for a project that would benefit children in the community at the same time the staff of the Ronald McDonald House wanted to add some activities for the younger kids staying there.

“It was a great opportunity to make a change in our community and help out the kids who are stressed out just have some fun,” said sixth-grader Larisa Wratney, as she stood with her friends Kerstin Randolph, Claire Eberhart and Lauren Davis, inside the black and white owl that forms the centerpiece of the playground.

The Ronald McDonald House already had an air hockey table and a game console, but not much for younger kids, Hudson said.

Duh and the kids decided to divide the space into zones with different purposes. In one area is the owl. A few feet away is an A-frame where youngsters can sit quietly and read. One half of the exterior is a large piece of metal with word magnets for arranging sentences. Duh said he may later add some magnetized blocks and other toys to be used with it.

The playroom also has a house-like structure with a peg board where kids can play by inserting the caps from colored magic markers. A small decorative train sits in front, which will provide storage for more toys, Duh said.

Many of the materials were donated or recycled. Particle board came from packing materials at Lowes and other bits and pieces, including the marker caps, came from Kaleidoscope.

The class began building and painting the pieces last spring. They spent this fall composing the music. The whole thing was assembled at the Ronald McDonald House.

The class also created some animation, but their cartoons weren’t used in the play room. Duh said they may be a part of the next Ronald McDonald House the charity is building just across the street.

The project spanned two school years, with some seventh graders who started it coming back to help finish, Waltz said. Altogether, about 80 students participated in the play space. Duh also had the help of Henry Bergin, 17, of Kansas City. Bergin, who is home schooled, did much of the electronic and wiring of the touch sensors, and also helped the kids work with software for the music.

Work on the project covered a lot of areas, said Waltz. Students researched how colors affect moods, used math for the measuring and designing and learned how to compose instrumental music, for example.

“We call it project-based learning,” she said. “It’s one of the best ways to learn.”

Students used their own strengths to tackle the problems posed by the project. “They also grew in creativity, which is something businesses say they want,” Waltz said.

Gloria Hoffman of Raymore, whose fifth-grade daughter Alisan worked on the project, agreed. “I think it’s important for kids to learn at a young age to get involved in the community,” she said. “It lifts their limits as they get older of what they can do.”

Alexis Carver, a sixth grader from Peculiar, was just happy to help out the kids who are dealing with a family illness. “It gives kids a chance to forget about what’s going on and just a chance to be kids,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Aidan Payne and Braden Zaner, both sixth-graders of Raymore. Said Braden, “They’re having hard times and some pain. Here they can just have fun.”

“Because every kid should!” added Aidan.

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