Stories of Optimism

Optimist Clubs Support Accessible Playground
November 28, 2012

"We love the kids we serve." Such is the driving force behind the work of the Cape Evening Optimist Club of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, according to Club President Samantha Simmons.

The club has served the Cape Girardeau area for 86 years, and for about the last five years, they, along with the Cape Noon Optimist Club, have been instrumental in the development of a playground that will be accessible to children of all abilities.  The idea for the playground, Melaina’s Magical Playland, was conceived by area residents Josh and Andrea Cunningham in honor of their daughter, Melaina.  As a baby, Melaina was diagnosed with Nemaline Myopathy, a rare muscle disease that presented her with physical limitations.  Since all of the playgrounds in the area were not built to accommodate children with physical limitations or disabilities, Melaina longed for one that was accessible to her.  Undaunted, her spirit and positive attitude drove her parents to begin planning Melaina’s Magical Playland.

Melaina's Magical Playland
Photo courtesy of Cape Evening Optimist Club

To achieve their mission of “bring[ing] the area's first public all-inclusive and fully-accessible playground to our community designed for all ability levels,” the Cunningham’s formed the Melaina Cunningham and Friends Park Fund, Inc. to raise money for the playground.  And the Cape Evening Optimist Club has been there from the beginning.  The Club helped the Cunninghams get in touch with local politicians and companies who have been vital to the development and building of the playground.  For each of the last five years, the Club has also set aside a portion of their yearly operating budget – generated mainly through Friday night Bingo games – to donate to the cause.  The Club has generated $5,000 – $10,000 each of the last few years for Melaina’s Magical Playland.  And they plan to continue to support the playground financially after it’s built.

About two years ago, the Cunninghams also contacted the Cape Noon Optimist Club for support.  Club President Wendell Mueller said they were so impressed with the Cunninghams’ presentation, they committed to raising $100,000 over five years.  And just like the Evening Optimists, they raised the money almost entirely through Friday night Bingo games.  But their passion for the project ran so deep, they recently followed through on their commitment with a $100,000 donation – three years ahead of schedule.  The Cape Noon Optimists’ donation made them one of only two organizations to reach the Diamond Sponsor level for the playground.  Mueller said that if the Cunninghams ask for more help with maintenance or other costs, the Noon Optimists will gladly entertain the idea.

Groundbreaking ceremony
Photo courtesy of Melaina's Magical Playland
After years of fundraising, the Optimist Clubs of Cape Girardeau had the honor of attending the groundbreaking for Melaina’s Magical Playland in March of 2012.  The playground is slated to be finished in spring of 2013.  Once completed, it will be the only all-accessible playground of its kind within 100 miles.  Though Melaina passed away three years ago, her spirit will live on in her playground and the children it will serve.

 For more information on Melaina’s Magical Playland and how you can help, visit




9.10.12-Youth Display Optimism in the Face of Adversity


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