Writer & Photographer / Tia Nielsen

Greenwood is privileged to have a special citizen in 11-year-old Payton Dillon. It is uncommon to see determination and compassion so thoroughly entwined in a fifth grader.

When Payton learned the city was planning City Center Park on the former site of the Greenwood swimming pool, she wanted to make sure the park included playground equipment that was handicapped accessible. Payton has a friend with cerebral palsy who needs stiff support of her torso to enjoy the simple joy of swinging. “She’s very sensitive to the needs of others like that,” explains Payton’s mother.

Payton asked her family, “How much would it cost to buy swings for the new park—ones like we have at school?”

Payton’s father, Joe, contacted the city to find out. He spoke with Marketing Director Molly Laut, who invited the Dillon family to the park groundbreaking. Payton began asking for donations for the special equipment that day. She even gave a pitch to the mayor. By the time City Center Park and Splash Pad opened in August 2013, Payton had raised $6,500. This fair-haired girl is a force to be reckoned with.

Being extra-sensitive to the vulnerabilities of others likely stemmed from Payton’s own journey. She was age five when doctors discovered she had a brain cyst the size of an apple. Her motor skills regressed to a toddler’s level. Surgery relieved the pressure in her brain, but years of therapy followed, focusing on balance and motor skills. Learning to walk again was part of kindergarten through third grade.

To develop her fine motor skills, Payton makes brightly colored ribbon bracelets. She painstakingly hand-paints the tabs of pop cans. Then she weaves colored ribbons in and out of them. She sells the lovely creations at swim meets and at a newly opened business on South US 31 called Trading Interiors. Half of whatever Payton earns goes to charity; Trading Interiors matches her $5 price.

Funds have gone to: Riley Hospital, a family who suffered through the Richmond Hill explosion, a teacher’s mission trip and a man going through cancer treatment without insurance. “Payton has no fear and is very comfortable with adults and younger children,” her mother says.

Be warned. If a smiling girl with gentle eyes and long, fair hair approaches you at the Freedom Festival, pull out your wallet. Your heart will not let you say anything but “Yes.”

After all, it will be for a worthy cause. Just ask Payton.

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