Let kids be kids

The Princess Alexa Foundation, a volunteer run 501(c)(3) with a mission to celebrate the childhood spirit of seriously ill children through dress up and play, is the region three winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest. The Foundation, which is based in Keller, Texas, was developed by Alexa’s mom after Alexa lost her battle with cancer. Read the excerpt below to learn more about the drive to bring an inclusive (and pink!) playground to the community of Keller.

“In June 2008, a 4-year-old girl laid in a hospital bed. She had been battling cancer for more than two years and was stricken with her first, but extremely aggressive infection that had found its way into her lungs. Held down by the numerous tubes exiting her body, a smile erupted across her face at the thought of one thing… a pink playground. ‘Mommy?’

‘Yes, Alexa?’

‘I want to go to a park. A pink park. I want to go there when I get better.’

It was in that moment, sitting by her bedside in the hospital room that had been our home for so long, that I promised my little girl I would get her to that playground. Just hours after Alexa declared her desire, her body succumbed to the fatal infection and gave way to a coma. A week later, Alexa passed away in my arms as her father held us in his.

My daughter not only left me with the gift of her inspirational life, but also the drive to do something in her memory. I believe that children with debilitating conditions should be able to feel as close to normal as possible. Let kids be kids. And what do kids do best? They PLAY! I needed to help other children with unique circumstances like hers. It was like my pain was the fuel I needed to give my own life away in service. Alexa was going to get a playground of her own to share with all the friends she left behind, including the ones in wheelchairs.”

Celebrating their grand prize

Wheaton Park District will celebrate their grand prize winning from the Together We Play™ essay contest with an event open to the community at 6 p.m. on Oct. 19. Local government officials, Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures representatives will be present. The location of the event is at Wheaton Village Hall in the Gamon Room, 303 W. Wesley Street. Wheaton Park District representatives will be speaking about their winning essay and new playground. There will also be a $150,000 check presentation from Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures to the Wheaton Park District.

Read more about the Sensory Garden Playground Initiative and the project kick-off celebration at the Daily Herald.

Guest Blog: Creating community


Now that Stephani Victor, Paralympic gold medalist and Together We Play™ essay contest judge, has finished reading the essays, she’s even more in awe of those who submitted them.

It has truly been an honor and rewarding experience to contribute to this most generous award opportunity that I know will be embraced whole heartedly by the winners. I learned a lot through this process. I cried, I felt people’s loss and community need. I felt their frustration with failing budgets and poorly maintained or inaccessible playgrounds in existence. But most importantly, I felt their passion, their commitment and authentic motivation to bring people together for the purpose of play. I have thought a lot about “playing” and what that means in my life, how it has shaped my life and how we have a responsibility as a society to ensure everyone has an opportunity to “play.” It’s important that we provide a place for everyone to go that is safe, where they can explore, grow and develop their imaginations and, ultimately, their sense of self.

I am also deeply affected by the idea of inclusion and what that really means. And how damaging exclusion can be, even if it comes from well-meaning parents who want to exclude able-bodied children from playing with their child with special needs because they are trying to protect them. Ultimately, any exclusion has negative consequences for everyone. I am so committed to the exploration of inclusion–in life–for adults, too. I am really grateful to you for sharing your insights and educating me. I have mountains of respect for you and your teammates, who are so committed to making a difference in lives of so many. Lastly, I appreciated the reminder that each of us gets to create our community and if we would like things to change, we need to start with ourselves.

Guest Blog: Connecting with communities


Hear from Stephani Victor, Paralympic gold medalist and Together We Play™ essay contest judge, as she makes her way through the piles of amazing essay submissions.

I am deeply moved by all of the essays I have read and feel equally inspired by the expansive vision of so many applicants and their ability to identify and address their community’s needs. I feel a great sense of pride for our country and, as an athlete for Team USA, have had the privilege to travel all over the U.S. Judging this inclusive playground contest has felt like journey back to so many places I have visited. Now I have a chance to connect with those communities in a meaningful way as I read about their dreams to bring inclusive play for all to their community. I am really grateful to share in this magnificent project to make dreams a reality.

Play for all–free from physical and social boundaries

As we go through the internal judging process, I am so overwhelmed. The amount of time, energy and emotion that have gone into these essays is incredible! I can’t believe all of the communities that want to come together through play. Not just any play, but play for all–free from physical and social boundaries. Communities have put together organizations to not only bring inclusive play to their community, but also educate the population on the differences of individuals’ abilities and how to embrace them.

It is eye-opening to see the hundreds of varying definitions of the word “community” in the essays. For some, community is a large metropolis of hundreds of thousands of people. Other communities are made up of small towns that draw from several other small towns. And many remote and rural locations have yet another definition as community. One thing rings true among all of these communities, and that is their desire to bring inclusion and play to the lives of ALL in that “community.”

Everyone that submitted an essay wants to bring play to all children in their community. Some want to dedicate the playground to someone special, others want to build it in memory of someone. Many essays focus on providing inclusive playgrounds not only so all kids can play together, but also parents/guardians and grandparents can play with the kids in their lives. I have been reminded many times over of all the military moms and dads, who so courageously fight for our continued freedom, and then come home to their families with different abilities. Many now use mobility devices and can’t easily play side-by-side with their children on the playground.

Each of the essays submitted are so deserving of an inclusive playground. Our team of judges sure have a tough job ahead of them. Check back with us in the next few weeks to get their thoughts about reviewing the essays.