Potential Development Unveils New Outdoor Fitness Area

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Excited students gathered around the swing sets and climbing equipment at Potential Development High School on Tuesday morning as the school unveiled its newest project – a new outdoor fitness and recreational area.

Potential Development, a school for children with Autism, began the $175,000 project a little over a year and a half ago. 

“We had a vision,” said Crissi Jenkins, chief growth officer. “We surveyed our students [and] asked them what they might like to use the space for. They came back with wanting to make it a fitness area.” 

Jenkins said they then reached out to the community and began writing grants for the project. Eleven donors contributed to the project. 

Contributions were received from several sources, including PGA golfer Jason Kokrak, Poland Rotary, Frances & Lillian Schermer Charitable Trusts, William M. Neckerman Charitable Foundation, Senator Maurice & Florence Lipscher Charitable Fund, Thomases Family Endowment, J. Ford Crandall Memorial Fund, Frank & Pearl Gelbman Foundation, The Youngstown Foundation, Schwebel Family Foundation and Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

Funding also came from the Kennedy Family Fund, the Young Philanthropist Fund, William Swanston Charitable Fund and the Delfin Gilbert Fund for Disadvantaged Children & Youth.

The space has now been open for about a month. 

“For the month that it has been open, students have been out here every day,” Jenkins said. “It is pretty much in use all day … There is really not a time during the day where we don’t have an area full of students excited to use the space.”

Jenkins said they have had great feedback from students, staff and families. 

“We wanted to have it ready for the spring, and it was,” she said. 

Potential Development High School has about 110 students, Jenkins said. Many participate in basketball, bowling, track and more. 

The new space gives those students the opportunity to build on those skills and make new friendships, she said. 

“It truly takes a village to execute a project like this,” she said. 

Potential Development is now brainstorming other uses for the space, Jenkins said. Occupational and physical therapists on staff are looking at the space for various potential uses to maximize benefits to students, she said.

“Time will tell what the impact is, but so far we are off to a roaring start,” she said.

A student uses a climbing apparatus at the new outdoor fitness and recreational area.

Paul Garchar, CEO of Potential Development, said the ultimate goal of the outdoor fitness space is to make physical activity a regular part of each student’s day.

“Children with autism are three times as likely to become overweight and obese as their typical peers,” Garchar said. “By creating a safe, welcoming space, students can explore different exercise options and different activities.”

Garchar said the hope is students will be able to build self-confidence and improve their social skills and interest in adaptive sports programs.

“We knew a couple of years ago that we wanted to get more involved with physical activity,” he said. “Physical activity, health [and] good wellness is an important part of education, so students can come out here and access this space every day.”

Students in grades seven through 12 will have access to the outdoor fitness space. Striving for age appropriate equipment, Garchar said the equipment is more challenging, age-appropriate, physical fitness type of equipment.

Swings, climbing apparatuses, a tether ball and a basketball court on the back of the property are a few of the items that can be found in the outdoor space. 

“You feel better if you are physically fit, and it spills over into better education and better performance in the classroom,” Garchar said. 

A “buddy bench” dedicated to former student Cody Straley is seen at the new outdoor fitness and recreational area.

The fitness space is not the only new addition to the property.

Garchar said over the past few years, three of their former students have died. The students – Tucker Kufleitner, Nathan McStowe and Cody Straley – now each have a “buddy bench” dedicated in their memory around the property. 

“They would have loved to have access to this playground area,” Garchar said. “Just as a way to memorialize them [and] to remember them, we had benches put in with their names on it. I was pleased that we were able to share those moments with their families today.

“There are still some students here that will remember Nathan, Cody and Tucker from school, and it just gives them an opportunity to reminisce and go through some fond memories of each of those students,” he added.

Pictured at top: Paul Garchar, CEO of Potential Development, unveils the new outdoor fitness space.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.