CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — An occupational therapist who was a driving force behind the implementation of an all-inclusive playground at the Carl Junction School District has been recognized for her efforts by the community.
Heather Linscheid, who has been an occupational therapist for 25 years, is this year’s recipient of the Citizen of the Year award as part the Carl Junction Chamber of Commerce’s annual community awards banquet. A graduate of the University of Kansas and Newman University in Wichita, she has worked with Carl Junction schools for 15 years and Freeman Health System for 10 years.
Linscheid helped establish the Power of Play project, a plan to renovate the playgrounds at Carl Junction schools so they can be accessible to all students, regardless of ability. The three-phase project calls for renovating the three existing playground areas in the district over the next several years to include rubber surfacing and play structures that can be used by all children.
The Power of Play project was launched approximately three years ago by Linscheid and a group of other teachers, staff, administrators and community volunteers who saw a need for accessible playground equipment in the region. The chamber gifted Linscheid a plaque and a Citizen of the Year yard sign on Tuesday.
“It was a shock and really exciting but very humbling because I can’t take credit for this,” Linscheid told the Globe. “So many people went together to make it happen. It wasn’t just about me. But I was full of joy when they first called me, and I had no idea it was coming.”
The first phase of the project, which was completed last fall, renovated the existing playground used by second through sixth grade students to upgrade the surface area with solid rubber and include play structures and other elements that can be used by all students, including those in wheelchairs. The next phase is to renovate the play area for kindergarten and first grade.
Linscheid said the award will be an encouragement over the coming years to continue the Power of Play project, which was funded by grants, businesses and donations.
“There were lots of ups and downs along the way, and there were times when the project didn’t seem possible at all, but then something would happen or someone would call me out the blue with an opportunity,” she said. “It just kind of boosts you back up, and you keep going. I feel a little more confident now knowing the steps involved."
This would have been the Carl Junction chamber’s 20th year for its annual awards banquet that highlights different members and businesses in the community, but the ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19, according to Ashley Butcher, executive director.
“We had to change it up a little bit, and we decided to go out to each one of those people and present it at a location of their choosing,” she said. “It worked out fine.”
For the awards, Carl Junction residents vote for a community member in eight different categories, and the individuals and businesses with the most votes are selected by the chamber. Butcher said Linscheid was chosen for Citizen of the Year for all of the work she’s done for the community and the school district.
“With Heather, she did such a great job with the all-inclusive playground there at the school, and she’s also in the community quite a bit,” she said. “For Heather to receive the Citizen of the Year award from the Carl Junction chamber, it was very well deserved.”