"Kayla's Krew" has vision for a playground for kids of all abilities


by Nate Kuester

FRANKLIN -- A local group is hard at work raising money to build a playground that all can enjoy, no matter what physical limitations they might be living with. The project is the brainchild of a woman who wants other kids to enjoy something her own daughter would have appreciated before she lost her battle with illness.

"She passed away on August 13th, [2012]" Shelly Runte said of her daughter Kayla.

The one year anniversary of the death of Runte's daughter has come and gone. However, many in the community of Franklin honor her memory and spirit almost daily, because they have a much grander tribute in mind for the little girl who spent her days bound to a wheelchair throughout her life--due to her battle with cerebral palsy.

After speaking with those closest to little Kayla--or "KK"--it makes sense as to why she loved butterflies. And at Ben Franklin Elementary, you see them everywhere you look. Butterflies are in the artwork all around the school.

"Kayla's spirit loved butterflies," said Alex, a third-grader at Franklin and a friend of Kayla's.

The butterfly clips that Kayla often wore are now a popular item among students, staff and faculty.

"It's a symbol of her and her spirit," said Runte.

Ben Franklin Elementary even has a butterfly garden. And it's all for Kayla, a social butterfly who loved spending time with her family and friends.

"Kayla was a social little girl," said Runte. "And it's ironic because she never spoke a word."

It comes as no great surprise that her fellow classmates--who are now third graders--still like to incorporate their friend into their daily activities in some fairly interesting ways. That includes a bench at the school's playground that's dedicated to her.

"They developed a little rule, of sorts, for the bench that only two children could sit on the bench at a time," Runte explained. "And you had to sit close to the edge and leave an open spot in the middle because that middle part is for Kayla."

Runte acknowledged that, for her daughter, playing was difficult at traditional playgrounds. Kayla's physical limitations were fairly restrictive. So Runte made sure her daughter had play dates with activities that she and her friends could all enjoy together.

When asked what kinds of activities he enjoyed with his friend Kayla, third-grader Jack told us, "We made a ginormous cookie,"

"It was fun to play with her," Alex told CBS 58. "And she had a really good imagination."

Kayla's gift of imagination is shared by those who love her still today. They are using that imagination for a grand vision of  a place where all the children from the community can come together to play, no matter what their level of physical abilities may be.

There are parks in Oconomowoc as well as in Port Washington that are specifically designed to accommodate all children. However there is currently no place like that in Franklin. So family and friends joined together to form Kayla's Krew.

The movement for a new playground caught on quickly. Multiple events and fundraisers have been held at the elementary school Kayla attended and beyond. Even the Franklin High football team got help from a rival school to participate in a "black out" game to raise money for the effort.

"Everyone knows about Kayla's Krew, and everyone has embraced the project as something that will be of benefit," said Ben Franklin Elementary School principal Mary Pat Siewert.

Schools are universally recognized as institutions of learning, however Kayla was more than just a student her school. As it turns out she did quite a bit of teaching herself, and her lessons carry on well beyond her days on this earth.

"I witnessed the most beautiful life lessons being taught; compassion, patience and just acceptance of all abilities." said Runte.

"Ben Franklin [Elementary] School has learned so much from Kayla," said Siewert. "Really about the difference that one person can make."

Siewert places a great deal of importance on the power of one. Even when that one person is no longer with us.

"I think that's the biggest lesson that kids have learned," Siewert said." "It's really incredible to watch that."

Little KK is still very much a part of her family's everyday life and she even dropped by while we spoke with her mother. A single butterfly floated by our camera as we rolled on an interview with Runte, letting us know she's ready for her playground.

Kayla's Krew has an upcoming fundraising event scheduled at the Franklin Police and Fire spaghetti dinner. That will take place Thursday, October 17 at the Polish Center of Wisconsin, located at 6941 South 68th St. in Franklin. The event runs from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

You can find more information about Kayla's Krew, which is affiliated with the 501 (c)(3) non-profit group Penfield Children Center at their website at www.kaylaskrew.org. They are also on Facebook as well. 


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