It has been a long time in the making, but finally that dream is turning into reality. For the last five years the group of passionate, dedicated volunteers of Hannah’s Hope have been working towards the vision of a playground where children of all ages and abilities can play together.
As of now, they can announce to the City of Portage residents, along with the communities of Northwest Indiana, that the construction of the all-inclusive playground will be underway this summer at Portage's Founder's Square Park.
With one more large fundraiser push, the group of Hannah’s Hope can start the groundwork for the playground, which will consist of play equipment created for children living with disabilities, as well as for children without.
“It all started with the wheelchair swing,” Hannah’s Hope secretary Niki Avina said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make it where every child could swing?”
To let every child, wheelchair bound or not, swing became the mission for the last five years.
The group of Hannah’s Hope is the non-profit founded in 2010 by Mary and Mike Martinez on behalf their daughter who passed away in 2012 at age 3. She was born with severe brain damage caused by a pre-natal stroke. Inspired by Hannah’s life, along the many other children living with disabilities, the organization has joined with the Portage Parks and Recreation Department to build an all-inclusive playground in Founder’s Square.
“The idea is inclusive play, so there will be something for everyone and every piece of equipment we put in will promote playing together,” Avina said. “There won’t be any part that will just be for special needs or just for non-special needs. The whole idea is playing together.”
There will be swings, slides, and a merry-go-round; all equipment that all children can enjoy. The pieces are picked out and the HH group are currently working with designers on what to install in the park, located behind the Portage Fire Station. The group has been raising money for the last five years, yet the cost of the surfacing for underneath the equipment is the last hurdle to jump.
The surfacing consists of several layers of a strong, squishy material, recommended as the safest in terms of playground floors. The material is soft enough to land on in the case of falls, however, the cost and installation is beyond the funds raised so far, Avina said.
Thus, the group of Hannah’s Hope is holding one more large event to put them over the edge of donations.
May 6th will be A Night under the Stars, the Playground Gala to raise money for the all-inclusive playground in Portage. The black tie-optional charity event will include live evening entertainment performed by Noel Cullen from Party DJ’s, and dinner entertainment will be performed by Vintage Postcard.
“We are looking for sponsorships, that is going to be our big push,” Avina said. “We really want to get Portage involved since this is a Portage park. We really want to get in touch with the Portage businesses involved because it is going to be a Portage playground and we do believe it is going to be a destination where all people from three counties will want to come.”
The evening will start at 5 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, then dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. and from 8 to 11 p.m. guests are welcome to enjoy dancing, a silent auction, and fun!
The playground will be placed at Founder’s Square between the amphitheater and splash pad.
According to Avina, the Portage Parks Department contacted them about a year ago, asking if the space would be a good place to put the park, since they knew Hannah’s Hope was looking to build this special playground. With the space locked down, all they needed were the funds and to narrow down the type of equipment.
With the input from occupational therapists, physical therapists, parents, and caregivers, plus scoping out other inclusive parks on the internet, Hannah’s Hope has chosen a few pieces they believe will please the community.
The wheelchair swing is the most popular, which will allow the child to move onto a ramp and into the swing. Other swing requests include the generation swing, where the child sits and faces the other swinger in one huge swing.
“This is much more modernized now, so that with a child with special needs, like emotional needs as far as maybe a child with autism, can to be in constant eye contact with the parent care giver,” Avina said. Another style is the arch swing, where children can be back-to-back or can lay down and swing.
Overall, just having a variety of options and where children with and without special needs can swing together is the main focus.
The merry-go-round is another traditional play equipment that can be made to include wheelchair-bound children. The structure is close enough to the ground that the wheelchair can slide onto the platform, then it will click into a specific place.
“Spinning is actually very good with the vestibular system, which is activated when a child is spinning and for sensory development. This piece is wise for children in a wheelchair,” Avina said.
As for slides, the actual slide equipment made for a wheelchair has not been made available for the Hannah’s Hope members, but there are slides that include sensory input mechanisms for the children with special needs.
There is one option they are looking at that has a device on the side of the slide, where children can plug in an adaptive switch to receive and generate sensory input.
“The adaptive switch can make noise or it can vibrate, so even if your friend is on the slide, you can be on the side of the slide with some component that is just for you,” Avina described. “There is a video showing this slide and a child in a wheelchair, as his friend is climbing to the slide, was making sound effects for his friend. There were oinks and moos and these two children were just having the best time and they were doing their different things, but still able to have fun together.
That is our focus, to keep everybody happy.”
Though is has taken five years to raise the money, the group of Hannah’s Hope is not concerned about the time. They are more focused on making sure everything is safe, fun, and operative by everyone.
“A playground is expensive and now we have the money to do it the way we want to do it,” Avina said. “We did not want to start this project when we couldn’t do it the best way and we couldn’t have things that are appropriate for all kids. Then it would have been just like any other playground.”
In 2015, the Portage Parks Department installed the splash pad at Founder’s Square and in 2016 they installed the amphitheater.
“2017 is the Year of the Playground,” Avina said.
For more information on Hannah’s Hope click here.
Ticket prices for A Night Under the Stars Charity Gala includes:
- $75 package: hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert, entertainment, and cash bar
- $100 package: hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert, entertainment, and a top shelf open bar
- $850 table reservation: Includes everything in the $100 package, 10 tickets, and reserved seating
To purchase tickets for the Playground Gala, click here.