With one big push courtesy of a large number of volunteers, the dream of an accessible playground is now a reality in Elmira.
It took less than five hours last Saturday to bring the Gibson Park project to fruition, with work completed almost two hours ahead of schedule.
The build began around 9 a.m. and organizers expected about 70 volunteers to show up throughout the day. What they did not expect was to have 110 willing pairs of hands waiting at the gates first thing in the morning.
“I would never have thought we would have this playground completed so early in the day,” said Tony DeJongh, the playground’s project manager. “What a great turnout for this community. Because of their help we are in great shape and will have this project completed in no time.”
Almost two years ago Kelly Meissner and her husband Jeremy started Kate’s Kause to raise funds to build a playground that children with special needs, like their daughter, Kate, could use to help them develop through play and interaction with other children.
Kate was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome (AS) in 2010. People with AS typically have little or no verbal skills, possible seizures, sleep disorders, and poor gross and fine motor skills.
Through tireless work the Meissners managed to raise $300,000 in 16 months and finally saw their vision completed as the concrete pads that were poured last week were transformed into a playground.
“The park is better than what I pictured. It is way better and the reaction that I am getting from people is that they think it is amazing. This is the reaction that we wanted,” said Kelly Meissner as she walked with Kate through the playground. “You can see the kids that are around here just love it and it is hard to keep them off the equipment and they are your best judges.”
The swing set portion of the playground was completed first, with many children and some adults quickly moving over to test the new equipment.
“Lots of very key people helped to do things for us and it is unbelievable that we managed to get this done is such little time,” said Meissner.” It is really nice to see so many people here because that means that it does mean something to people and they wanted to be part of this.”
The playground will include a junior and senior play section, swings and a flower garden. The Meissners are hoping to add in a water element and a sensory wall to the playground in the future.
The sensory wall will be placed in the garden area of the playground next summer. It was cut from the original budget so the main features of the playground could be installed.
“That is something that is very important to us because it makes the whole place completely accessible because it reaches those sensory issues. It is custom-made with a forest theme with animals and kids will be able to touch the different textiles and hear all the different sounds,” said Meissner.
Volunteers across the region came out to help with the build, including numerous EDSS students who were in the middle of their exams.
“Kate’s Kause is a really big thing at our school,” said Margaux Evans, a Grade 10 student. “I was really touched by the story of Kate and her mom. (Meissner) truly believes that every person is equal to another which makes me identify with her and I wanted to come out and help.”
For Carla Deering from Waterloo, who helped plant flowers in the garden, the transformation of the park into a playground brought tears to her eyes.
“As I was planting some butterflies flew out of the flowers and it just made me think about the whole metamorphosis of this playground and how the park is changing and how redeeming the whole day has become. It is just beautiful.”
Completion of this phase of the project gives Meissner some much-needed time to relax.
“A lot of my time has gone to organizing and planning all the events around this but now it is time to spend some time with my kids and myself,” she said.
The playground will have a soft opening on Canada Day with the grand opening to be held later in the summer.