Hannah’s Hope hosted their "A Night Under The Stars Gala" at Woodland Park in Portage to raise money for a dream that is five years in the making.
The fundraising gala brought almost 300 people together Saturday night to raise funds for an inclusive park for children of all abilities, including special needs - a cause that is at the center of Hannah’s Hope’s mission.
“We are hosting this gala tonight to raise money for the inclusive playground that we would like to build at Founder’s Square in Portage,” said Mary Martinez, co-founder of Hannah’s Hope, along with her husband Mike Martinez. “We have been saving money and putting aside money for the playground for a few years now, but now that we know exactly what we want for the park, we knew we needed to raise more money. So all of the money we raise at the gala tonight is strictly going towards the playground.”
Hannah’s Hope was founded in 2010 in honor of the Martinez’s daughter, Hannah, who was born with special needs and passed away at the age of three. The nonprofit raises funds for children like Hannah who have special needs and helps pay for needed equipment, like wheelchairs, leg braces, weighted blankets, cranial molding helmets, and so much more to help them reach their developmental goals.
The dream of building a playground that is inclusive of every child of every ability came from Mrs. Martinez’s trips to the park with her children- parks that did not allow Hannah to enjoy her childhood like her siblings and other children her age.
“All three of my girls and I were at a park, and I realized there was nothing I could really do with Hannah and her siblings together,” Mrs. Martinez explained. “I could either sit on a swing and hold Hannah or put her back in the stroller. So, I told my husband that it would be great if we could create some sort of playground that would allow kids to interact with each other, regardless of their abilities.”
Over the last five years, every benefit and every event Hannah’s Hope has hosted has contributed funds to this dream park, and with one last push for funding, that dream is close to becoming true.
“We want to build something so that all kids can participate, so you keep the family unit together,” said Mike Martinez. “What we have designed will allow that to happen. And the way we have the playground laid out, we are going to be one of two national demonstration sights in the country.”
All of the resources, money, and research that has been put into the playground over the last five years has designated it as the only demonstration playground east of the Mississippi River. What that means is the inclusivity level meets all of the requirements needed to qualify as a national demonstration playground, where people who build and study playgrounds will come to Hannah’s Hope Inclusive Playground and watch how children interact and play at the playground.
“It will be our playground and one in Utah,” Mr. Martinez passionately explained. “It’s really the functionality of the whole thing. Kids, regardless of ability, will be able to come to our playground and not be judged by their ability levels, but be judged by being a kid.”
All night long, guests mingled, enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, made bids in the silent auction, and sponsor one of ten pieces of equipment for the new playground. They were also treated to a delicious dinner and dessert, but the real treat came afterwards with a special announcement from Mr. Martinez.
Martinez revealed the plans for the Hannah’s Hope Inclusive Playground during an emotional speech where we thanked everyone who has ever volunteered their time for the nonprofit, worked with the Board, and of course, his wife, Mary. But as an added surprise for a women, Kelly Martinez, whose son, Reuben, was touched by Hannah’s Hope’s mission, gave a push to raise $12,000 in ten minutes for a see-saw in honor of Reuben. The gesture was met with generosity, enthusiasm, and plenty of tears.
“It’s a fellowship of Hannah’s memory, how we are helping other kids, and what we went through as a family,” said Debbie Martinez, Hannah’s grandmother. “This little girl inspired this organization to help other kids like her. This playground is going to be a wonderful thing, something these kids will enjoy for the rest of their lives.”
Hannah Martinez not only inspired her parents to create an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs; she also inspired, and continues to inspire, everyone in the community to come together to better the lives of all children, regardless of ability.
“It has been the dream of Hannah’s Hope to build a fully inclusive playground,” said Niki Avina, Event Director and Board Secretary for Hannah’s Hope. “So not just one with ramps, but one with equipment that addresses all of a child’s needs. This playground is going to get families out and it supports the needs for the entire family, not just the child with special needs.”
For more information about Hannah’s Hope, go to www.hannahshope.org. If you or someone you know would like to donate to the Hannah’s Hope Inclusive Playground, please donate at http://www.hannahshope.org/donate.php.