The Crossing at Angel Court-Motivation-"Our Story, by Julie Mayberry"
Imagine being a kid, and looking at the most amazing playground full of children you'd love to play with, and then realizing that you have to watch on the sidelines. When you are a child in a wheelchair, it's almost as if someone placed a mote around the playground, with no bridge and alligators in the water.
Raising our child, Katie, born with spina bifida, has been an eye-opening experience for us as we began to see the simplest of tasks as not-so-simple.
Most parents look forward to taking their child to the playground to burn off some energy, get exercise, play with friends, and let their imagination run wild in the outdoors.
For the child in the wheelchair, a trip to the playground often includes tears and frustrations.
Most playgrounds do not have a surface on which children can wheel. Pea gravel or mulch is not wheelchair-friendly surfacing, so even getting next to the playground equipment is not an easy task. Then upon arrival to the equipment, there usually is very little for the child to do other than to watch others play; not exactly stimulating for the child and definitely not exercise for her either.
As Katie's mom, I would try to make the playground fun and would carry her through the playground structures. I would hold her up so she could latch onto the monkey bars, or carry her to the top of the slide, tell her to wait, run down the stairs to get to the bottom of the slide and then tell her she can slide. What would take most children two minutes to do, would take us 10.
Then, after catching her at the bottom of the slide, I would carry her back to the top and begin the routine again. It was fun for me the first time, but even the most-fit person is going to get exhausted after a while. Katie, of course, would never tire out and really couldn't understand why after four or five times, I would say, "That's enough. Mommy needs a rest."
Swings usually are not an option for us either. Katie lacks balance to be able to support herself on a typical swing, and the baby swings often provided in public playgrounds were too small.
So to make life a little easier, I often chose to avoid playgrounds, so we wouldn't have to experience those frustrations. I also began dreaming of a playground fit for all.
In 2011, we traveled to San Antonio, Texas to Morgan's Wonderland, a theme park built for kids with disabilities,(www.morganswonderland.com) the first of its kind. What a treat! All four of our children enjoyed the park equally. There was something for everyone and not a single tear, other than when Katie was told it was time to leave.
We traveled there with about 30 families from Arkansas as part of "I CAN! Dance," a group of children with disabilities who had the privilege of performing at that park.
We knew that we wanted to bring a little of this multi-million-dollar theme park to Arkansas. "The Crossing at Angel Court" is certainly not the grand-scale that Morgan's Wonderland is, but we will have aspects of that theme park incorporated into our park. The most noticeable will be barrier-free playgrounds, where special surfacing will allow Katie and other children and adults to wheel up to the equipment, and wheelchair ramps onto the equipment will allow them access to the upper levels.
"Sway Fun" is a fully accessible outdoor play glider that several children can enjoy together and those in chairs, whether an adult or a child, can enjoy too.
These are just two examples of what we hope to accomplish. Please look over this website and discover all the ideas we hope to bring forth in this small community of East End as we develop "The Crossing at Angel Court."
In 2001, my husband, Andy and I bought four acres of land in the East End community of Saline County with intention of building a shopping plaza. Plans fell through. What seemed at the time to be a failure, has now turned into a bigger plan to develop an area dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities. Two of the four acres was donated to Saline County to build the "I CAN! Arts and Resource Center," The center was built through a grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in a unique partnership with Saline County and the non-profit organization, Community Connections. The center offers extra-curricular activities for children with disabilities, such as dance, soccer, art and music.
On the other two acres will be the proposed park "The Crossing at Angel Court," if all goes as planned. We have a lot of fundraising to do and a lot of partnerships to create.
I personally would like to thank all those who have helped us get to this point and all those who will help in the future. Please look over our supporter page and thank those businesses, individuals, and organizations who are working together to make this happen.
Katie is now 11, and the earliest possible completion date for this park would be early 2015. She would be 13 years old at that point; not exactly the age of a child who wants to play on a playground. Perhaps a little late for Katie to completely enjoy the playground equipment, but other aspects of the park like the walking trail and the accessible soccer/multi-purpose field will be exciting to her. Plus, this park will exist for future generations of children in wheelchairs who hopefully will never experience the disappointments we've endured.