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NORTH TONAWANDA – Although picnics and barbecues seem far away at this time of year, the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club is gearing up to replace eight new picnic tables and benches that will make the Donald F. Miller Park on Sweeney Street more accessible to disabled and special-needs children.

The goal to purchase the new picnic benches at a total cost of over $5,200 was a bit steep, but former North Tonawanda resident Paul Schmidt recently donated $2,000 to encourage others to donate.

Schmidt, a former member of the Vandervoort Street Boys Club who is now living in Denver, has donated to the local Boys and Girls Club and at a recent event spoke to members of the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club about their efforts.

According to Karl Heilemann of the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Schmidt went to the Camp Spirit Summer Day Camp in the park to check up on it and met with Heilemann at the Canal Fest.

“He said, ‘If there’s anything I can ever help you with, let me know,’ ” said Heilemann. “So this was a project that came up.”

Heilemann said the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club is an all-volunteer group that maintains the park at 1601 Sweeney St. and allows other groups to use it. They recently began offering use of the park to groups of children with special needs. Many of the children have difficulty with mobility, with some in wheelchairs, and the old benches require a person to step up and over the bench and framework to use the benches.

“The (picnic benches) we have currently are far more difficult to use than the ones we want to purchase,” Heilemann said. “Some of the kids have difficulty with gross motor control or gross muscle control, and it is a little more difficult for them to step over the top of the framework. This will also make it more wheelchair-friendly.”

Additionally, some of the wood on the old picnic benches was beginning to rot, so members of the club were forced to constantly replace boards.

The new picnic benches will have a walk-through design for easy access, with an extended portion that is wheelchair-accessible. The tabletops and seats are made of recycled plastic for easy cleaning, and the frames are galvanized.

Heilemann said Schmidt’s donation will allow the club to purchase at least three of the picnic benches, which are provided by Jamestown Advanced Products Corp. at a cost of $656 each. The company has discounted the price of the benches and donated the cost of shipping them.

“Our goal is to purchase a total of eight benches and have them assembled and installed this spring,” Heilemann said.

The Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club is an all-volunteer public charity with its mission to maintain the Donald F. Miller Park to provide low-cost outdoor educational experiences to area youth. The members are committed to educating young people in health, fitness, leadership and teamwork, and to provide an appreciation for the environment.

The Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club also has strong affiliations with local schools, Boy and Girl scouts, and other organized youth groups, which are offered the opportunity to use the park year-round for evening meetings, daytime programs and weekend retreats.

Last year, the club served 3,130 young people.

More information on the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club is available at www.nortonredjacketclub.org. Donations can be sent to the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club at 1601 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda, NY 14120.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com