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LEO’s Haven: A Place For Every Child to Belong PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tricia Potts   

I’d like you to take a moment and think of a time from your childhood when you knew you belonged. Where you fit in. Now think of a time when you felt completely out of place, and you knew for a fact you did not belong.

 

For many of us, the truth is it is easier to remember the second scenario. Because those moments when we long to belong are moments that define our lives. For some, memories of not belonging stay with us well into adulthood.

 

As a mother of three children who have disabilities, it is not uncommon for our family to encounter places and situations where my children don’t feel like they belong. It’s like my family is a square peg trying to fit into a round world. Nowhere is this more evident than when we try to visit a typical playground. My son, Oliver, uses a wheelchair which can’t go through the sand or wood chips surrounding most playgrounds. If he wants to zip down a slide he has to transfer out of his chair and drag himself up the stairs as other children run by jostling him or accidentally stomping on his fingers. While his friends and sisters are playing, he is usually stuck on the sidelines unable to join in.

 

Because a typical playground is not designed to truly accommodate his needs, I can’t help but feel we don’t fit and we don’t belong.

 

But we aren’t the only ones who struggle with this.

My friend Brenda is a life-long resident of Watsonville who uses a wheelchair. She vividly remembers hiding in the classroom during elementary school recess because she couldn’t go on the playground like all her classmates. She spent her school years feeling like she didn’t belong.

 

Another friend of mine, Siobhan, has the sweetest little boy, Miles. When he visits a playground he makes a beeline to the swings. However, at two, Miles has grown out of the infant swings but doesn’t have the upper body strength and coordination to sit on a regular swing. So he gets really frustrated. Siobhan just wants to see Miles smile when he goes to a playground. He just needs a swing that could accommodate his needs.

 

In December of 2013, my family visited an inclusive playground. For the first time, we played together like any other family. Oliver could go everywhere and play on everything with his sisters. Finally, we were in a place where we belonged....it just wasn’t in our community. I saw how much it meant to my children to finally find a playground where we belonged. That day, I promised my children we would find a way to build a playground for them as well all the other families like ours who are searching for a place to belong.

 

Ever since then my family, joined by an ever-growing group of volunteers and other community supporters, has been working with the County of Santa Cruz to make LEO’s Haven a reality. We’ve found the perfect location, the playground design has been crafted, and we are currently in the midst of a capital campaign with the goal of building LEO’s Haven by 2019.

 

1 in 10 children have a disability which means about 5,000 children in our county need a playground where they feel they can belong. I could throw in a bunch of statistics about the physical, social, and emotional benefits of play. I could tell you many other stories of families in our community who are driving up to two hours away to take their children to inclusive playgrounds in Palo Alto, San Jose, or Salinas, or children who will spend their childhood never visiting a playground. But I’d rather speak to you from my mom’s heart and tell you the essence of what LEO’s Haven means for my family and other families like mine.... this is a place for our children to belong.

 

You and I have the opportunity to change the stories of children like Brenda and Miles and Oliver by making LEO’s Haven a reality. By working together as a community, someday soon our children, regardless of their abilities, will be able speed down a slide, reach the sky on a swing, or play with their friends. They will always have a place to belong at LEO’s Haven.

 

Tricia Potts is the founder of the Santa Cruz Playground Project, an all volunteer group working in a public-private partnership with the County of Santa Cruz to design, fund, and build our county’s first fully inclusive playground: LEO’s Haven at Chanticleer Park. If you would like to support inclusive play for our community’s children please visithttp://www.santacruzplaygroundproject.org/www.santacruzplaygroundproject.org for more information.

 
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