Lee's Summit man makes good on promise for playground at Polish orphanage

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Skeptical administrators surprised by tool-toting volunteers. 

LEE’S SUMMIT -- When Mark White told Polish orphanage officials that he wanted to build a new playground for them at no cost, they were skeptical.

But a few weeks ago, the Lee’s Summit man showed up in Poland with tools in hand, just as he had promised.

“The administrators loved it,” says White, a member of Lee’s Summit Community Church, which helped sponsor the trip. “They had to admit they didn’t think we’d show up again.”

White and a team of four volunteers returned from Poland in early September after building a playground and making new friendships in the small town of Goscieszyn, home of an orphanage of about 50 children.

White first became acquainted with the orphanage on a mission trip with Lee’s Summit Community Church in 2005. He found that the 130-year-old facility had rusted, dangerous playground equipment. The situation met its match in White, an environmental risk manager for the Lee’s Summit School District and a playground expert. 

On his flight home in 2005, he began making plans to return. White saw serving the orphanage as a practical demonstration of God’s love: A new playground could better help children achieve their full potential. He dubbed the cause Playgrounds for Poland.

“These (orphanage) kids are socially and intellectually left behind,” White says. “They don’t have the opportunity to play like kids in the United States. Kids need that for developmental purposes. Child development experts say that play is required for proper development to occur in the brain.”

The team from Lee’s Summit Community Church and one additional out-of-state volunteer raised their own funds for the project. White used his professional connections to get price breaks on the equipment from nearby European manufacturers (five pieces of equipment were donated by KOMPAN, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of playground equipment).

He also served as cheerleader, organizer and all-around fund raiser for the cause.

Team members received some unexpected help from middle and high school students at the orphanage, who grabbed shovels and pitched in. At week’s end, they had built a playground and infused the children with an immeasurable amount of hope and joy. 

The work, however, didn’t stop there. Some funds for the project were also donated to a nearby Christian foster home in need of basic necessities.

White is already planning on returning next year to add more equipment to the playground. But his vision for the project is expanding. He’s already brainstorming how teams could help equip Polish students with skills to help them obtain better jobs. Transition from an orphanage to adult life is often abrupt, and any preparation students can get is valuable.

White would like to ease the transition, in part, by seeing more children move into the foster home, where they receive more personal care. The home is in the midst of an international capital campaign to expand its size.

“The playground is just a foot in the door,” White says. “The real ministry is to help these kids have a chance at a decent life. I still see the faces. I didn’t want to leave them. I don’t want them to become just another statistic.”

White is doing more than building playgrounds. He and his wife, Nancy, are also in the process of adopting an eight-year-old girl from the orphanage.

To learn more about Playgrounds for Poland, contact Mark White at 816.986.2447 or JMS8thMO@aol.com.