HELENA – Advocates came together in Helena Tuesday to celebrate progress toward making local playgrounds accessible to all children.
The city of Helena, Kiwanis Club of Helena and Helena’s Playable Playgrounds have worked to raise money for a new playground at Cherry Park. The new playground will be specially designed so kids with a variety of disabilities and other special needs can use it.
Now, the project has secured a $10,000 grant from the state.
“That $10,000 grant is one of the biggest pieces of where we’re sitting today,” said Jason Egeline of the Kiwanis Club.
During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers approved House Bill 294, setting aside $100,000 for grants to communities and school districts developing accessible playgrounds. State Rep. Jean Price of Great Falls and Sen. Mary Caferro of Helena led the effort to pass the bill.
Price said she had seen the barriers that face children with disabilities, growing up with a sister who had Down syndrome. She said she was happy to take on the goal of expanding accessible playgrounds.
“I’m just so thrilled to be here today to find out that this one is already on the way,” Price said.
Helena’s Playable Playgrounds has already helped bring more inclusive equipment to other local playgrounds, but leader Stacy Sommer said the Cherry Park project is their most ambitious so far. In addition to all-new equipment, it will also feature a rubberized surface that improves access for those with limited mobility.
“The cool thing about inclusive-play playgrounds is that most children don’t know the difference,” Sommer said. “We design it specifically to meet certain needs, but it’s fun for everybody and every age.”
Sommer became involved with the “playable playground” effort when her family moved to Helena several years ago and she had trouble finding facilities accessible to her son, who has autism.
“I knew there was better stuff out there,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that one person can make a change in the world.”
Organizers say the cost of the first phase of the Cherry Park project will be around $230,000. They say they have raised $180,000 so far. They hope to begin work on the new playground this fall.
“The vision is that children who have disabilities no longer have to be on the sidewalk watching the other children play, but they’re playing right alongside them,” said Caferro.
If you are interested in contributing to the Cherry Park playground project, you can find more information at the Helena’s Playable Playgrounds website.
Helena was one of 11 communities to receive inclusive playground grants from the state. The others include Billings, Butte, Cascade, Fairview, Lolo-Florence, Shelby, Sidney, Townsend, Whitefish and Wyola.