The Fox Valley will have its first completely handicapped accessible playground by the end of 2012. The FUNdation, a nonprofit that supports the South Elgin Parks and Recreation Department, won $60,000 as one of five runners up in the Together We Play essay contest.
Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc., will contribute $10,000 of the total for playground equipment and California-based Shane's Inspiration will give the remaining $50,000 for project guidance and programming services.
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Karen Cluchey is a founding member of the FUNdation. She heard about the contest two weeks before the deadline and, with some help from her husband, son and a friend, submitted a winning essay -- with a video and letters of support -- all with just eight minutes to spare.
"We are looking at creating a universally accessible play environment that would include areas for sensory play," Cluchey said. "Not only do we need to have areas for children in wheelchairs and walkers but we need to look at a broader scope -- children who are autistic, blind, hearing-impaired."
Jim Reuter, director of Parks and Recreation, said the department tries to make all of its parks accessible but this new playground will be especially inclusive, keeping in mind the needs of people of all ages and abilities.
The South Elgin Parks and Recreation Department routinely offers programming throughout the year for children with physical and developmental disabilities. There is the Special Night for Special kids that opens Riverfest, an Adaptive Egg Hunt and regular programs in collaboration with the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association.
Reuter said since the department opened in 1997 there has always been a focus on inclusion.
"This is just another example of the village caring and showing what a small community does with a big heart," Reuter said.
Cluchey said the FUNdation will need to raise extra money in the next few months to complete construction of the playground, which will be substantially more than the $10,000 awarded. Shane's Inspiration will offer help designing the playground and implementing activities that will bring kids of differing abilities together. The goal of the new space is one of inclusion for all types of kids.
"The whole idea is to realize there may be differences among us but there are a lot of things that we can share and do together," Cluchey said.