MSOE students played a key role in helping Kayla’s Playground in Franklin, Wis., come to fruition. Through Servant-Leadership at MSOE, nearly 50 students were involved in the construction of the all-abilities playground dedicated to the memory of Kayla Runte. Kayla was diagnosed with hypotonia and cerebral palsy and by her first birthday she began having seizures. Kayla passed away when she was eight years old. Her parents wanted her memory to stay alive and dedicated their time to raising money to construct the playground and recruit volunteers from across the community to build it.

“Kayla’s Krew” of volunteers designed the playground to be all-accessible and all-inclusive for children and families of any age and ability. MSOE students were responsible for designing and installing the musical components of a bridge for the playground, with both guidance and financial support from MSOE Servant-Leadership.

Assistant Professor DeAnna Leitzke ’98, ’08, Chair of Servant-Leadership at MSOE, helped inspire various students to take the lead on this project during the past 16 months. She describes how MSOE became involved, “Shelly Runte reached out to MSOE in the summer of 2014 because she had heard about our desire to get students involved in real-life projects. After hearing Kayla’s story, it was easy to join the team! It has been a pleasure working to make this dream become a reality for the Runte Family. I especially enjoyed watching our students design the musical component of the bridge for children of all sizes and abilities. They learned so much about the needs of children with different abilities and did a great job looking at the project through their eyes. I am very proud of what our students accomplished!”

MSOE athletes, Circle K members, members of Sigma Lambda Chi, and other students were servant-leaders on this project. The students had various reasons for volunteering their time to Kayla’s Playground. Caitlyn Moran wanted to get involved in the community and give back. As a biomedical engineering major, she had the chance to learn about a different industry and came out with some life experience. “A little advice for college students: volunteer at least once a year, and see how much of an impact you can make on other people.”

Students took their knowledge from the classroom and applied it in a real world experience. Holly Denfeld, a junior studying architectural engineering and construction management, learned how to get the perspective of both the architect and the engineer while making a difference in the community. “It is real life experiences like this that assure me that I’ve made the right career choice. Knowing that I helped create something that can touch the life of another is what I’m in this industry for.”

The musical bridge had a mural on it which Holly and construction management student Travis Smith, have been working on from beginning to end. Seeing the completed product made them proud of everyone’s hard work and effort. During the process “We came up with some pretty wild ideas at first and went through many design and coordination meetings internally and with the project organizers to get to something we were happy with.”

Derek Hummel, construction management student, has been involved with Kayla’s Krew for about a year and has had various roles. He has dedicated the most time out of the MSOE students but he noted that “The biggest thing I’m taking away from this experience is the volunteers’ commitment to their community. I’m inspired to think about what Shelly Runte and her team of volunteers were able to accomplish.”

The MSOE students balanced school, homework, internships, Kayla’s Playground, and many other things. Their dedication, the many other volunteers, donors and the community of Franklin made Kayla’s Playground possible which is a grand way to honor Kayla Runte.