URBANA - The Greater Champaign County AMBUCS may have only 25 members, but they give big.
The service club earlier this month presented the Urbana Park District with a check for $19,500 to remodel the restrooms at AMBUCS Park in east Urbana to make them completely accessible to the disabled.
The gift was another example of a decade-long commitment by the AMBUCS to develop a park for the disabled. Since 1993, the club has donated more than $100,000 and tens of thousands of dollars more in uncompensated labor toward AMBUCS Park, located at 1012 E. University Ave.
?They are a hard-working, dedicated club,? said Robin Hall, executive director of the Urbana Park District. ?AMBUCS has been very generous. They've given of both their time and their labor. It's a wonderful example of what community groups can do.?
Before AMBUCS became involved, the park was called Woodland Park. While relatively large at 22 acres and filled with mature trees, the park was largely undeveloped beyond a single baseball diamond and public restrooms.
In 1993, the club decided it wanted to build a playground in the park for children with disabilities. More than $10,000 in wheelchair-accessible playground equipment was purchased and ample concrete sidewalks into and around the equipment were poured. Among the playground's features are an elevated sandbox, which proved so popular with nondisabled children that the club built two regular sandboxes.
?A kid can put his elbows in the sand without getting out of his or her wheelchair,? said club member Ron Meyer.
Wooden phone booths, with voice-carrying pipes connecting them to other wooden booths, give kids another fun place to play at the park.
Swings for those with and without disabilites, a large plastic clock and a wooden truck are other features.
?If you come out here on a Sunday, you'll see 20 to 25 kids playing,? Meyer said. ?It's just neat.?
But the club didn't stop there. In 1994, the club built a 75-foot-long wooden bridge over a small gully, giving children an exciting place to gather and traverse. Two years later, AMBUCS built a large wooden pavilion, named after wheelchair athlete Jean Driscoll, at the south-center edge of the park, complete with an accessible grill. A second, slightly smaller pavilion was later added at the west edge of the park.
While supporting the park makes up about 60 percent of the Greater Champaign County AMBUCS' fund-raising contributions, that is not the sole focus. Another 35 percent of funds raised annually go to the organization's Project Ramp Build.
The organization builds 10 to 15 home wheelchair ramps per year for county residents who meet income requirements. Over its 21-year life, the local chapter has built more than 300 ramps, at no cost to the recipients.
Meyer said he remembers in particular a Tolono man for whom he helped build a ramp in the early 1980s. He said the man had a rickety porch and hadn't been outside of his home for a year and a half, except when he went to the doctor and was forced to take an ambulance.
?He was so happy? when the club installed a ramp at his home, Meyer recalled. ?We got a Christmas card from him for the rest of his life, another 10 years. I think we added some years onto his life. That kind of hooks you.?
The club's main fund-raiser is coming up March 8. Proceeds from the event help fund the organization's charitable contributions, including the development of AMBUCS Park.
The event will take place at the Laborers Union Hall, 108 Anthony Drive, U. A fund-raising ticket is $135. Additional dinner-only tickets can be purchased for $35 with the purchase of a fund-raising ticket. A prime rib dinner will be served, with an open bar at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m.
Only 295 tickets will be sold and there will be a drawing from among fund-raising ticket purchasers, with a grand prize of $15,000 in cash. Other cash prizes will also be awarded.
Tickets can be purchased by calling Bob Price at 352-4034, or from any other club member.