Talyah Washington, 6, and King Rivera, 7, may not have understood what the blue ribbon was for to officially open an “all-inclusive” playground last week. They just wanted to have fun.
They also may not have realized that the person who was the instigator for the playground is an 8-year-old little girl with big dreams.
Talyah was born with Down Syndrome. King suffered a traumatic brain injury four years ago in a car accident. Despite cognitive and motor skill challenges, both are children who love to play.
The playground located at Lemon Park in Barnwell started with a question raised by Izzy Brandt to her parents, Stephanie and Shaun Brandt. “I took her to a Buddy Walk about two years ago. It’s a fundraising walk for kids with special needs,” Stephanie said. That experience made an impression on young Izzy who also has made friends with one special needs child.
Then, one day about a year ago they were at Lemon Park and Izzy noted that there wasn’t any playground equipment for kids with special needs. “They want to play too,” she told her mom.
Izzy and Stephanie contacted Pam Davis, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Barnwell. Davis thought about the idea and decided to write a grant proposal to the S.C. Parks and Recreation Department (PARD).
She was notified that a grant for $12,000 was approved “but that was not enough for this type of playground.”
Axis 1 came to the rescue with a $10,000 grant through the Eat Smart, Move More Program.
The partnership resulted in the purchase and installation of a multi-level climber, “Cozy Cocoon”, seesaw, congos and cabassa.
“The multi-level climber is where kids of all abilities can play,” explained Davis. “It helps improve motor skills, coordination, strength and dexterity. This leads to self-achievement and greater self-esteem.”
The egg-shaped spinning “Cozy Cocoon” is a “comfortable place where a child can retreat or just hang out,” said Davis. “It is especially designed for kids on the autism spectrum. This little pod provides a sense of enclosure for children who are over-stimulated.”
The seesaw is playground equipment which children of all ages and abilities can enjoy. The seesaw “gives support to children who don’t have core strength,” explained Davis.
The congos and cabassa are musical instruments which are designed at a more accessible angle and height which can be played by all children including those with mobility devices. The cabassa produces a metallic rattle as it is spun,” said Davis.
On Wednesday, May 30 a ribbon-cutting was held at Lemon Park with Izzy, King and Talyah cutting the ribbon held by Barnwell Mayor Ed Lemon and Councilmen Pickens Williams Sr. and Steve Walling, and City Administrator John Zawacki. The formalities were followed by King and Talyah having “first dibs” playing on the new equipment.
Marcus Rivera, King’s father, was delighted with the new playground. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “It will give kids an opportunity to enjoy playing with other children and not feel separated. They were thinking of everybody.”
Talyah’s mother, Whitney Mole, was also pleased with the fun her daughter was having. “It’s nice,” she said. “I feel better about my child playing on it.”
The hope of everyone involved is that children of all abilities will visit the park and enjoy the new playground equipment.
Seeing her dream come true is “awesome” for Izzy, a rising fourth grader at Andrew Jackson Academy.
“This is amazing,” she said. “It’s a place where I think they will have fun. Actually, I am having fun here.”