A mother who lost her son, Shane, to Spinal Muscular Atrophy believes a playground is the "birthright of every child."
After Shane's death in 1997, Catherine Williams and her husband, Scott, founded Shane's Inspiration after they realized their son, who would have lived his life in a wheelchair, would not have had the option of playing at any local playgrounds, because none would have suited his needs.
The organization partnered with the Wheaton Park District last fall, when the with a grand prize of $50,000 in design work from Shane's and $100,000 in playground equipment from Landscape Structures, Inc. To kick off fund raising efforts for a Wheaton location, representatives from the Wheaton Park District, the Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA), the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and Shane's Inspiration held a salon Thursday night to kick off fund raising efforts and present site plans for a "Sensory Playground Garden" and programs that would focus on encouraging play between able-bodied children and children with special needs.
With the mission to serve the children of the world, the Kiwanis Club of Wheaton was the driving force behind the effort to bring a universally inclusive playground to Wheaton when Kiwanis member Cindy Keck proposed the idea as a way to mark the Kiwanis' 60th anniversary.
A developmental therapist for young children, Keck said many of the children she helps have Sensory Processing Disorder, a neurological disorder that causes challenges in processing and responding to sensory information.
"It's not a disability that shows itself in children's behavior, but the filter part of their brain that says 'ignore that' isn't working," resulting in an overwhelmed child's temper tantrums, screaming, biting and hitting, said Keck.
To avoid the stressful day at the park, many of the families she knows tend to be "very isolated," she said.
Shane's Inspiration Design Director Virginia Hatley presented her design for the universally inclusive playground at Danada South Park at the northeast corner of Naperville Road and Navistar Way in Lisle.
In line with the Danada Equestrian Center, the "horse race" themed playground will offer play areas that focus on engaging sensory stimulation, including a sound garden, a fragrance garden, a "pony stables" playground, a "race horse" playground, tree top swings, a rocks and ropes area and a water play area. Hatley said the park will have separated areas with playgrounds for children at the developmental ages of two to five and five to 12.
Keck worked over a year with Kiwanis' and Wheaton Park District Board of Commissioners' President Ray Morrill to secure the club's and park district's support for the project.
Rob Sperl, director of planning at the Wheaton Park District, told Patch last fall the project would cost about $1.9 million. Equipment costs will range from around $5,000-$8,000 per piece and surfacing costs will be upwards of $120,000, according to the Wheaton Park District website.
"There are a lot of causes in this world that we can all feel close to and want to be a part of," said Morrill. "This is one that I, as a commissioner, feel that I would like to make a difference in."
Wheaton Park District Executive Director Mike Benard said the park district, Kiwanis, WDSRA, Shane's Inspiration and the forest preserve are working to provide a local and regional destination for children with disabilities and their families.
"We're all interested in improving the quality of life for the community and those we serve around us and we believe this project does just that," he said.
In a video for the organization, Shane's Inspiration founder Scott Williams says at a park, "no one is ever excluded.
"People from all walks of life, from all incomes, from all races and religions—if they can all come to one common place and play, if we can start at that little playground and (it can) spread to the world—What a great world we have."
For more information about the Sensory Garden Playground, go to www.dupagesensoryplay.org.