The place was built for going outside and getting messy.
So that's what happened Thursday as the Junior League of Wichita opened a new outdoor classroom at Kids' Point, a Rainbows United early childhood facility at K-96 and Oliver.
Adults and children plodded across rain-soaked grass or stepped carefully across stones to the Nature Explorers area, a partnership project between the Junior League and Rainbows United.
Despite the mess, officials hailed the opening as a welcome bit of good news for Rainbows, which is working its way out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
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"Right now we just think everything is positive," said Steve Cox, chairman of the Rainbows board. "We knew we wanted to create something special here... and our expectations have been exceeded."
The new area features nature-based activities designed to encourage young children to explore the outdoors. Plans call for the classroom to be certified by the Arbor Day Foundation for children ages birth to 5, including children with special needs.
Rainbows, which serves children with special needs and their families, filed for Chapter 11 in July after the nonprofit's board of directors discovered "financial irregularities" in the group's financial reports.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in March approved a multipronged plan that sets up a payment schedule for the group's biggest debts and pays off a $1.5 million post-petition loan to keep it afloat.
During the launch of the new classroom Thursday, Junior League of Wichita president Jamie Schmaltz alluded to Rainbows' financial troubles and praised the organization for its continuing commitment to children and families.
"You get to see the true face of a friend in the face of adversity," Schmaltz said. "In the face of adversity, Rainbows has been stellar.
"They are absolutely on the right path. They're doing the right thing. Their mission hasn't changed: They want to help young children, and especially kids with special needs."
The $60,000 project, financed entirely by the Junior League of Wichita, features an entryway and gathering space, a "music and movement" area with a stage and musical instruments, an art area and two garden areas. A butterfly garden honors the memory of Carolina Enegren, a young mother and Junior League member who died in February.
During Thursday's celebration, a member of the Enegren family and Rainbows United students released 50 butterflies into the new garden. Bright rays of sunshine cut through the clouds as the butterflies lighted on flowers and tree branches.
"When times are dark and sad, it's the little things, the little moments that make us smile," said Schmaltz, the Junior League president. "We are so honored that we had her in our presence even for such a short time."