In just 18 months after conceiving the idea to build a playground, St. Matthew Preschool was organizing a dedication program to celebrate the completion of the new playground. The playground is located behind St. Matthew's Church, Church Street, in Franklin Township.

"We raised $17,000 to build our playground," noted Donna Austin-Ahner, head teacher. "We held lots of fundraisers and got lots of donations."

Austin-Ahner noted that the former play area was sometimes a muddy mess and that bees had built their homes in the old equipment.

"Without Keith, it wouldn't have happened," said Austin-Ahner. Keith is Donna's husband. She noted that Keith had secured community donations and coordinated the research and fundraisers.

She noted that among the fundraisers were hoagie sales, pizza parties, yard sale, Friday Fun Nights, movie nights and other activities. "We held a McDonald's family night and candy sales," she added.

"We wanted a place where the children of St. Matthew's Preschool could play safely out of the mud," she said.

The play equipment is set on a 900 square foot rubber matting surface. The entire enclosed area is about 1,800 square feet, which provides plenty of space for the three slides, a climber, activity boards, standing sand table, basketball net, soccer area, easel painting area, reading area and nature area. There is also a bird feeder, ribbon weaving area for fine motor skills and child size tables. The playground is geared for preschool age children ages 3 to 7 years old.

"I was concerned that the children do not play outdoors enough," said Austin-Ahner.

St. Matthew's Preschool is 16 years old. Approximately 60 children, ages 3 to 5 years old attend classes at St. Matthew's every year. Children ages 3 years old are in classes two times a week, while older children are in classes three times a week. Sessions are held both in the morning and afternoon.

Austin-Ahner said that when they first had secured estimates, the playground was going to cost $30,000, but with the help of volunteers and donations from businesses, the playground cost was significantly reduced.

The playground was blessed by the Rev. Nancy L. Moore, pastor. At the dedication program, she said, "Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me. We're following his word by making places of learning and nurturing. Bless our new playground and the people who made this a reality."

Companies donating services were East Penn Trucking, which picked up the equipment at no charge; and Matola's Paving, installing the rubber matting; and Forest Inn Masonry, which supplied materials at cost.

"Thank you for making my dream come true," said Austin-Ahner.

Her husband, Keith Ahner, said, "It's all about them."