A Superior resident who dreams of a park where every kid can play has earned statewide recognition for her advocacy. Kenna Hermanson, 8, became the youngest recipient of the Relentless Badger Award at a ceremony in Madison on Feb. 20.
"I don't think there was a dry eye in that crowd," said her mother, Kalee.
The annual award is presented by the Wisconsin Coalition of Independent Living Centers to individuals who make their community better for people with disabilities. The staff at North Country Independent Living, which serves Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Price, Sawyer and Washburn counties, chose Kenna to receive the award.
"Sometimes it's a legislator. Sometimes it's a community advocate," said John Nousaine, director of North Country Independent Living. "Kenna is the first third-grader - youngest one ever."
North Country was one of eight independent living centers to hand out an award, but Kenna's was a showstopper.
"She got a standing ovation. I could barely get through it because I got pretty emotional," Nousaine said. "The guy who was emceeing it said we should have saved this one for last. She was a big hit."
Discouraged that her friends with disabilities didn't have the same opportunities to play as she did, Kenna has been working toward creating an all-inclusive park in Superior's south end since she was 6.
Fundraising efforts for Webster Dream Park started with $250 from a lemonade stand. Kenna knew from the get-go that it would take time to build her dream, but her focus was on the other children.
"It kept me going because I feel like they need it," she said. "I'll just take my time; I don't need it that fast."
Webster Dream Park is coming together more quickly than she or her parents expected.
In December, the Superior City Council amended its 2019 community improvement program budget to include $200,000 for the park. Donations have started pouring in from Husky Refinery, Enbridge, Essentia Health and others. Birds Bar has been hosting meet raffles every other Wednesday for the park. People handed the family $56 in donations at the award ceremony in Madison.
North Country Independent Living will donate the proceeds from its annual expo in July to the dream park, as well.
Hermanson said they currently have raised $245,000 for the project, estimated to cost $250,000. If they go above and beyond the fundraising goal, Kenna said, she'd like to add a splash pad.
Groundbreaking could take place as early as May 29 - Webster Park's 100th anniversary - or as late as Sept. 1. Construction is expected to last a week.
"It's going to be a community build, which is nice," Hermanson.
The local labor union and Enbridge will be lending a hand.
"And then we'll put out a plea to community members if they want to help put up a playground," Hermanson said.
Watch the Webster Dream Park Facebook page for that, she said.
Kenna has been dragged along to plenty of City Council meetings, Hermanson said.
"It's kind of cool watching her grow up and figure out how to make a difference at her age with her own peers," she said. "I'm proud of her. She hasn't let anything stop her."
The award was an unexpected surprise.
"It's like super duper, duper cool," Kenna said. "I keep it on the dining room or on my dresser."
And she's got plans for the future, once Webster Dream Park is a reality.
"Another park for all abilities," Kenna said.
For more information or to donate, visit the Facebook page or email kalee@firstname.lastname@example.org.