On Oct. 21, 2011, we marked the beginning of an incredible journey for FUNdation and the Village of South Elgin, Ill. We marked our celebration as the region 2 winner of the Together We Play™ contest by hosting a kickoff celebration at the location of our inclusive playground site. We held a community options planning session and invited many local community members to help us dream big! Great design ideas were shared by school administration, parents, Village administration, parks and recreation staff, teachers and committee members. In December, we received conceptual designs from Shane’s Inspiration and are on our way to completion.
Several of our committee members visited Landscape Structures in Delano, Minn., to take a tour of their production facility. Not only are the products produced by Landscape Structures of the highest quality, we learned so much about the culture of their business. And with the addition of their concrete manufacturing plant, nothing is impossible to create into play. We plan to include concrete products in our playground design.
Tiffany Harris and Brad Thornton from Shane’s Inspiration joined us on a cold, blizzard-filled evening in January as we reached out to our community members to gain support for this inclusive play project. After we shared our vision for inclusive play with those in attendance, we asked everyone to become ambassadors for this unique project. We have hosted two more open houses to educate community members, and we continue to research possible funding opportunities to help us meet our $1.1 million budget goal.
Grand Prize Winner: Wheaton Park District, Wheaton, Ill.
Receiving the Together We Play™ grand prize has been terrific way to kick off this significant project for our community and the region. Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures visited our community in October to see the site, develop our matrix of design elements and formally present the award at the Wheaton Park District Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 19. Since then, the concept has been presented to several community groups including two enthusiastic grade school classes. We are eagerly awaiting the Shane’s Inspiration design that will allow us to start formal fundraising for the project.
The City of Lewiston, Maine, is the region five winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest. The vision for this community’s inclusive playground comes from a unique perspective–providing a place where children can not only play with their friends, but also with their parents or guardians. Read below to learn more about their vision for inclusion on the playground.
“As parents of a 4-year-old, they want quality play time with her. Ben has been a quadriplegic since December 2007 and finding ways to play together has been difficult.
They desire a playground where children and adults with disabilities feel welcome–a centralized play area versus being separated from others. Inclusiveness, they say, would affirm that others are willing to share time/space with them. Ben believes the playground would be a fresh, unbiased experience where play, socialization and education would be common ground for a new adventure!”
The region 4 winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest is Kate’s Kause in Elmira, Ontario. Kate’s Kause is a 100 percent charitable organization committed to Angelman Syndrome awareness and fundraising for inclusive community projects. Read the excerpt below to learn where Kate’s mom, Kelly, gets her inspiration.
“My inspiration comes from our beautiful 2-year-old daughter, Kate. Kate was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome (AS) in 2010. AS is a traumatic diagnosis: those afflicted suffer from severe physical and intellectual disabilities, have poor verbal skills, sleep disorders, sensory sensitivities and require full support throughout their lives. To help bolster our spirits, we have created an organization named for Kate–Kate’s Kause–which we hope will help create the necessary change that will benefit all children. As Kate’s mom, I have the same dreams and hopes for Kate that any parent has: I want her to be happy, be surrounded by people who love her and be included in the world. One way of helping us fulfill our dream of full inclusion for Kate is through helping her do what children do best: play.”
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?’
‘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.”
The region two winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest comes from South Elgin, Ill. The FUNdation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, works to improve the quality of life for the residents of the Village of South Elgin through the development, implementation, and funding of recreation, education, and conservation programs, services and facilities. Read the excerpt below to learn more about their need for inclusive playgrounds.
“Imagine an adolescent boy and father visiting a park together. Because of his special needs, the boy is unable to use the swings appropriate for his age, so they try to fit him into a toddler bucket swing. Now imagine the terror of the child and the anxiety of the father when the child becomes stuck in the swing requiring responders to cut him out. Unfortunately, this scene was not imagined. It recently happened at a park in the Village of South Elgin.
The FUNdation embraces the Village motto “Where Tradition Meets the Future” by employing our traditional values while addressing the future needs for our community. We envision the creation of a welcoming park that is inclusive of age, sensory and developmentally appropriate playground equipment and free of barriers for visitors with physical challenges.”
The City of Gig Harbor, Wash., is the region one winner of the Together We Play™ essay contest. Their essay explains their inspiration behind submitting an essay–providing a place where all of their children can play together. Read the excerpt below to truly understand what inspired these moms.
“Our children are our inspiration. We are a group of mothers who have bonded together over the past 10 years–working hard to make our community a better place for our special needs children and for those to come in the future. In this case, we are members of the ‘Committee for an Inclusive Playground in the City of Gig Harbor.’ Each of us has a unique story–traumatic and often sad–and our children have many different diagnoses including muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, autism, developmental delays, chromosome abnormalities and epilepsy. Yet, each family also has a typically developing child, and that has inspired us to create an inclusive playground.”
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.
We read so many great essays when deciding the winners of the Together We Play™ contest, and want to share with you excerpts from the winning submissions. Here is part of what drew us in to learn more about the Sensory Garden Playground Initiative at the Wheaton Park District in Wheaton, Ill.
Imagine the sounds of happy children running, climbing, swinging and digging, while parents chat nearby. Imagine the relaxing atmosphere of unstructured play which encourages problem-solving and socialization among peers. Imagine entire families enjoying recreation together.
Now imagine the nightmare a park can be for families of children with sensory processing problems–too much noise, too much contact, no place to withdraw safely. Imagine the panic of parents when a child on sensory overload runs away, or the embarrassment when their child becomes overwhelmed and bites or hits another child. Imagine a family’s frustration at not being able to enjoy a park atmosphere because the facility isn’t safe and welcoming for a child with special emotional needs.
We imagined all this and more.
Then we saw a safely fenced play area with room for children to spread out, surrounded by a fitness trail for adults. We saw surfacing where wheeled devices move easily and equipment is designed to engage sight, hearing, smell, movement and touch. We saw places where a child can withdraw easily and safely, so that each one can learn to regulate his or her own sensory input. We saw a welcoming place where whole families can relax and engage and enjoy their time together.
We saw the need for a multi-community effort to build a world-class facility, and we are ready and willing to lead in making it a reality.
Keep working toward your goal. Your community–especially the children–will appreciate the work you’re doing to create a place where people of all abilities can play together. Stay inspired; check back to watch the progress of the contest projects here.