‘Toys with a Purpose’ ready to help, but it needs one thing — toys

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

Shelley Ferrin remembers exactly when everything started to make sense — the idea, the need and the simplicity of the solution. It all came together at once and seemed so clear.

It was last fall, when she and Patrick Kitzman had met to discuss the progress he’d made regarding Toys with a Purpose, a lending library that supports child development and promotes learning through play by improving access to free adapted toys in Eastern Kentucky.

Kitzman, PT, PhD is a professor in the UK Department of Physical Therapy and the founding Director of The Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network. For years, he has been organizing, and bringing on people to help like Ferrin, MA, a Health Education Coordinator and Interprofessional Health Education Specialist at the UK Center for Interprofessional Health Education.

Suddenly, one thing Kitzman said made it all fall into place.

“He talked about how some children can’t turn the pages of books,” she said. “And he described how we can put popsicle sticks on the pages to make them easier for the children to turn. This was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me — it just became so clear how we can all help and how easy the solutions can be.”

Working with a grant from the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disability, Kitzman and his right-hand person, Keisha Hudson — who is a Rural Project Manager at the Center of Excellence in Rural Health and will be the person helping to oversee that site — have truly made the project a collaboration between departments, schools, communities and regions. The local Half Price Books store donated more than 250 volumes, while classes helped to affix the popsicle sticks. Naomi Maloney’s students in the College of Communication devised a marketing plan, slogan and logo.

And local high schools in Perry County, along with senior citizens and veterans, have offered mentoring, community engagement and development strategies to grow the lending library. Children would be able to receive toys for free, play with them, then return them and allow someone else to do the same.

“Play is part of normal child development and is essential for developing creativity, imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength,” Kitzman said. “In addition, play helps with language, math and social skills and even helps children cope with stress. Toys are integral to play, yet children with disabilities are often unable to use off-the-shelf toys and purchasing manufacturer-adapted toys can be very expensive.”

So, as Ferrin said, the answer is simple. The toys must be fixed.

But therein lies the newest challenge: Toys with a Purpose needs toys. Things like:

  • Toys that make lights, sounds and music
  • Wood puzzles like fire engines and motorcycles, especially with sounds
  • Battery-operated stuffed toys
  • Picture books for young kids — the more the better

Now, the public can help. Beginning this week, donation boxes have been placed at three sites:

  • At the Center for Excellence in Rural Health on the Hazard Campus
  • Outside the Starbucks in the Healthy Kentucky Research Building on Press Avenue
  • At Bluegrass Community and Technical College

Still, there are other ways to contribute. Kitzman has set up an Amazon Wishlist site here.

“Turning these toys into adapted toys are very low-tech fixes,” Kitzman said. “Usually, those are the best fixes, the simplest ones. Now we just need to let people know how they can help.”

For more information on Toys with a Purpose, contact Patrick Kitzman at phkitz1@uky.edu or 859-218-0580.