The project is the idea of Beth Newman Benson '92, who wanted a way for her disabled son to enjoy a day at the park. Most playgrounds, although in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, require a child to get out of his or her wheelchair in order to use the equipment. Steps, ladders and ropes often keep disabled children from joining others on higher levels of the structure; Benson envisioned a playground where "at least they could go where their friends go."
Another influential person in the planning of the playground is Elizabeth Quant '96. According to Quant, who has an autistic son, there are no playgrounds in Rice County that are accessible to children with mental and physical disabilities. About 150 disabled children in the area are without a playground where they can easily enjoy themselves. The new playground, organizers hope, will change this.
Both women agree that the playground has become a community project. The Northfield Park Board provided the land for the playground, and contributed $30,000 towards it. Benson said she has received numerous calls from people in Northfield wondering how they can become involved. The Seratoma Club of Northfield and the United Way are among a number of organizations that have helped to make the playground a reality.
St. Olaf has also become involved in the project. Through the Volunteer Network, playground organizers were able to use the Black and Gold Ballroom for a silent auction last spring. In addition, Bon Appétit donated $500 worth of food to the event. Quant says that she found "the joy they had in helping" very touching. The money raised from the auction, grants and individual contributions, now totals close to $120,000.
This money will help to equip the playground with many wheelchair-friendly features. One of the most important components of the new playground will be ramps which will allow children in wheelchairs to get to places on the jungle gym that are typically more difficult to reach. Play panels, tic-tac-toe, binoculars and a periscope will help children have a good time while staying in one spot.
The playground will include rubberized surfaces, ensuring that the path to the playground is easy to travel.
Quant pointed out that the playground will be beneficial to disabled parents as well. While other playgrounds may have hindered interaction between parents and their kids, "now the parent can actually be an active parent up with the child on the playground," she said.
Construction on the playground, which will be located at a soccer complex off of Jefferson Parkway, begins in November. Volunteers are needed to help with several steps in the process. A number of people from the Thompson House have already volunteered to serve food to the workers.
One of those volunteers Sara White '05 who sees the project as "a way of reaching out to those around us. There are so many things that we all take for granted and I think it is important as college students to step outside our everyday lives and do our part to help others."
Although professionals will be assembling the playground's base, volunteers can help with jobs such as constructing smaller parts and working on landscaping. Interested volunteers can contact Elizabeth Quant at firstname.lastname@example.org.