Germanton Park was filled with tears of joy, peals of pleasure, and lots of smiles Saturday thanks to years of work by Inspire Stokes County to create the county’s first handicapped accessible playground.
“This is great,” screamed 19-year-old Charli Robertson as she swung on one of the two new wheelchair accessible swings. It was the first time in many years that she had been able to even consider being able to swing. “It is like, wow. This is way passed due. It is great for other kids and myself. We need to let anyone who has kids in wheelchairs know that this is here. This is the only place I have ever heard of that has swings for handicapped kids. I will be back here again.”
The two wheelchair accessible swings, and two hard-backed swings, which were unveiled at the park Saturday are the result of years of fundraising and lots of hard labor by Inspire Stokes County, a volunteer group formed to provide support and activities for parents of special needs children.
“This paves the way for other kids to have something to look forward to,” said Charli’s mom, Sheryl. “When you are in a wheelchair you usually just sit and watch kids on a playground, but now they have a chance to participate. You can see it in the smiles on their faces.”
Regina White agreed, saying that the new playground was a true blessing for her 13-year-old son who has spent years sitting on the edge of playgrounds stuck in his wheelchair.
“He would just watch the other kids run and play,” she said through tears. “Sometimes he did not even want to go on field trips because he could not participate like the other kids. This is a very, very wonderful thing. I love it. It is great.
“We will be spending a lot of time over here,” she added. “Now my other kids can go play on the rest of the playground and he can swing and participate just they are. He won’t have to just sit and watch them.”
Inspire Stokes County President Mitzi Britt said that is exactly the response her organization hoped for when they started fundraising for the new swings over three years ago.
“It is definitely worth it when you see the smiles on their faces,” she said, noting that the new swing system cost between $8,000 and $10,000. “We got a lot of stuff donated. Vulcan Industries donated the gravel for the pad and we had a landscaper donate their equipment and time to clear the area. We also had an Eagle Scout volunteer and there was a group of about four or five people up here working on it every weekend since February.”
She said the swing set was just the beginning of what Inspire Stokes County hopes to accomplish at the park.
“We want it to be an all inclusive park,” she said. “We want to address the carousels and make them be ground level with a lock bar so a wheelchair can just slide in. We also have several ideas for a slide that could be part of a big hill. A lot of special needs children have sensory issues and don’t like the open air underneath a slide.”
Britt said her organization hoped to eventually be able to spread wheelchair accessible elements to other parks in the county.
“I would love to be able to make all of the parks in Stokes County accessible,” she said, noting that her group would continue its fundraising efforts.
Inspire Stokes County also provides a variety of programming and support for parents of special needs children in the county.
“We are here for parents of kids with special needs to to reach out to us,” said Britt. “We do a summer camp with the Stokes County Arts Council for special needs kids every year. I want people to know there are resources here in Stokes County and there are things to do.”
She said the group hosts regular dances for special needs children and also runs a support group for parents. The group also wants to get more involved with the school system and encourage local businesses to consider hiring people with special needs.
“There has to be something between the schools and parents where we can all get together and be more involved,” she said. “I also want to see more of our businesses supporting our young adults that are uniquely-abled instead of them having to go to Forsyth or Rockingham counties to get jobs.”
Britt said the group has lots of plans for the future, but on Saturday the smiles and laughter of kids swinging for the first time ever was accomplishment enough.
“This is a really large step,” said Britt. “I have had to watch my child and others sit on the sideline while other kids play. Now they don’t have to sit on the side. They are not a second thought. They are the same as everyone else. They are like their peers for this little bit. They are swinging like their friends and playing and laughing like their friends and that has got to be a great feeling.”
To find out more about Inspire Stokes County email email@example.com or call 336-591-5400.
Donations can be sent to Inspire Stokes County, P.O. Box 866, Walnut Cove, NC 27052 or online at https://www.gofundme.com/inspirestokes.
We want to help more in the classrooms.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.