“Playing to learn as you learn to play” is Jenny Morgan’s credo as she reflects on the past few years of fundraising and creating an all-accessible playground in her rural, close-knit community of Warfordsburg, PA. The effort, generosity and prayers of an entire community came to fruition on November 6, 2021 with the playground’s ribbon-cutting.
By day, Jenny is a school-based occupational therapist. She works with children who have developmental disabilities, rotating through schools in her district. Jenny helps students develop self-help and play skills. After-hours, little did she know she’d transfer her skills into running a non-profit organization that provides resources and opportunities for young children, youth, adults and seniors.
Her playground idea came about in 2015 while taking a grant-writing class. One of her assignments was to envision a community-based program or project that she wished to pursue in the future.
“I thought about the needs I saw in our rural area – and started with my own experience,” explains Jenny. “Our schools are far apart and have small populations. At our playgrounds, I observed how students played, and began to notice children with disabilities that couldn’t even access the equipment. This saddened me. While other kids were easily playing with each other, others were on the sidelines.”
When it struck her that there was no universal play equipment, her playground project was decided. What Jenny didn’t realize at first was that a small mustard seed of an idea would grow into the “destination” playground it is today.
In the spirit of “how,” Jenny started to think through the actions that would be necessary to develop an inclusive playground in her community. What steps would be needed? First, she found a potential location on land owned by the local Lions Club. In 2017, her husband, Rich, helped her create a non-profit entity, Milestones Wellness Outreach, so that she could apply for grants.
When applying for the PA Department of Community & Economic Development grant, Jenny included nearly 40 handwritten letters and drawings from children supporting the project.
“We know that these letters touched the grant reviewers hearts…because they touched ours,” says Jenny. This idea came about not only to make the grant application more personable, but because there was a need for fun, effective projects for students at home doing virtual classes. Kids wrote about why they wanted a playground and what they envisioned for it.
Through a variety of grants, word-of-mouth (and even unsolicited!) donations, along with progress shared through a very active Facebook page, the playground came to life!
New Inclusive Playground an Act of Friendship in Pittsburgh’s East End
This independent, non-profit organization helps children of all ages through services that establish and strengthen the family, including an adoption program, a daycare for medically fragile children, and a transitional care hospital for children. It’s also not unusual for The Children’s Home to team up with other organizations in the neighborhood to offer a place to learn, play and socialize.
“Children experience play in different ways, and we had a dream to one day build a completely inclusive playground that we could also share with our community,” explains Matt Defrange, Foundation and Community Relations Manager at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh and Lemieux Family Center. “We were delighted when an opportunity to fund the playground came up unexpectedly.”
What felt like a shot in the dark was quickly coming to light. Matt and his team found General Recreation and Curtis Bischof through online research about inclusive playgrounds.
“Curtis helped us to visualize our project and guide us through the planning process. This was our first time developing a fully accessible playground and the site had challenges. Our original playground was a small playset. Children with braces or in powerchairs couldn’t access it because it lacked ground-level ramps and other play features. Curtis was amazing to work with and his ability to troubleshoot was a huge factor in the project’s success,” Matt recalls.
For example, to ensure the effectiveness of a smooth, level rubber safety surface to cushion falls and provide all-access, Curtis suggested laying a concrete slab before installing the playground surfacing and structures.
In the playground design, it was very important for children of any ability and developmental stage to be able to play, explore and learn. Key accessibility features include Landscape Structures’ double-wide bridges and ramps leading to the Sensory Tunnel and Club House. Powerchair accessible, the tunnel is a sensory-rich experience filled with color, light, and texture, and the Club House has enough room for everyone to hang out together.
A variety of durable, ground-level musical instruments, including a kettle drum, chimes and giant xylophone, are easy to reach for youngsters, as well as children in chairs. Additional sensory play elements include “cause and effect” panels with bongos, gear turners, rain sounds and color splashes.
Since the playground’s grand opening ceremony in August 2019, families within the organization’s programs and the surrounding neighborhood, have enjoyed it. Parents have expressed immense appreciation for their children’s opportunity to play alongside and socialize with children of all abilities. It’s truly an act of friendship in an aptly named neighborhood!
To learn more about designing and developing an inclusive playground for your organization or community, contact your local General Recreation Playground Consultant at 800-726-4793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Build Jake’s Playground heals a family; lifts up a community
“Grief is exhausting. You don’t want to wake up from it,” admits Lynn Cummings. Her grandson Jacob Myles Cummings Nasto passed away in 2008. Jake’s rare heart condition, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, kept him in the hospital for operations and away from his favorite place: the playground.
“Jake’s disability made it difficult for him to play on the playground, but he loved it there. He’d light up when other kids were around. Seeing them have fun was his motivation,” she recalls.
Jake received his physical therapy on the local playground, which is typical for special needs children.
After Jake passed away, his parents Joseph Nasto and Kate Cummings were devastated. “My daughter [Kate] was never happy. But when we received a gift to do something in memory of Jake, she knew what to do: build a playground. This idea gave us life,” Lynn explains.
More and more communities are recognizing the importance of accessible, inclusive play for children of all abilities and are putting this awareness into action. The fall 2015 opening of a state-of-the-art community and recreation center in Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania included a vibrant, inclusive playground.
General Recreation worked with Christopher Green, Senior Landscape Architect at Gilmore & Associates, to complete this expansive playground for 2 to 12 year-olds. Both companies have teamed up on various projects over the past 15 years.
“It’s great to work with Chris,” says Garry Helmuth, Gen Rec playground consultant. “His firm is respected and recognized across the region for their park and playground design work. You know when they’re involved, the project will be well-planned and well-designed, resulting in a beautiful, sustainable facility for the client.”
Play And Music For All: Harmony Playground at Saylor Park in Lititz, PA
Lititz, PA is a small, yet mighty town. Over the past two years, community members, organizations and businesses teamed up to raise $80,000 to incorporate accessible playground equipment into Saylor Park.
Aptly named “Harmony Playground,” this play area now includes inclusive play structures for all ages, as well as Landscape Structures’ Rhapsody Outdoor Musical Instruments, celebrating Lititz’s music industry.