Industry News

“I just want an accessible swing for my granddaughter.”

That was grandmother Patty Bomba’s original request two years ago. And through countless hours of hard work and community outreach, Patty was able to give her granddaughter a wonderful gift — a large, totally accessible playground that she and the other children in Carneys Point, N.J. can enjoy together.

Patty has always shared a special bond with granddaughter Sami. She enjoys the time they spend together and enjoys her role of daycare provider. But unlike many other children in daycare, Patty and Sami’s days often included both doctor visits and therapy appointments. Since birth, Sami has been living with severe disabilities.

Like many kids, Sami loved the playground. On the way home from her appointments, she and Patty would often stop for a ride on the swing. But she soon outgrew the infant swing and the playground wasn’t accessible to kids with wheelchairs.

“Imagine being confined to a wheelchair, watching other children run and play, and not understanding why you can’t join in their fun,” said Patty. “Sami and other children with disabilities deserve to be participants, not spectators.”

Patty began asking her community for help. She wrote letters to legislators, freeholders, and the school board — anyone with influence. Her request quickly gained momentum.

While the Carneys Point Township Committee didn’t have the funds to build a new playground, they did have the space for one in the township recreation complex.

“I met Patty when she approached the township’s recreation commission about a swing for her granddaughter,” said Nicholas Franceschini, a volunteer with the commission. When the commission offered to donate the space, the goal was no longer just a swing, but an entirely accessible playground.

To accomplish this goal, a group, “A Place For Sami”, was formed. Comprised of community volunteer groups — including the PTO, fire department and individuals — the group was led by Patty and Nick.

The township project soon became a county project and, working together, the county received a state grant that was split between seven townships for the construction of nine accessible playgrounds, the Carneys Point playground being 100 percent accessible.

The group then sent Nick to a three-day seminar at the KaBoom! Playground Institute in Chicago, an organization that specializes in community-built playgrounds.

When he returned home, Nick quickly applied what he had learned. “Everyone wanted to help,” said Nick. “Area service groups, organizations, corporations, contractors and unions offered to supply personnel and/or funds, donations, equipment or services.”

Fundraising efforts began, one being the sale of engraved bricks to be placed in the walkway leading to the playground.

“Our goal was to build a 100-percent accessible playground with a blacktop walkway, ramps instead of steps, and rubber surface instead of mulch,” said Nick. The group then contacted Playworld Systems, a playground manufacturer based in Lewisburg, Pa.

“A Place For Sami”, the brand new fully accessible playground, was installed on June 8, 2002. At 7:30 a.m. on build day, 350 people arrived at the site offering their assistance. Another 50 people volunteered to help prepare and serve the donated breakfast, lunch and snacks to the volunteers.

Eight teachers and one radio station’s mascot helped with the daycare for the kids whose parents were helping with the build. “One of the best things to see was the overwhelming community involvement,” said Nick. “A playground worth over $200,000 was made possible with the many donations of time, money and materials.”

As volunteers registered, they were put into one of 15 different groups and given a short presentation on safety. George Ely & Associates, the local representative for Playworld Systems, worked with the Buzz Burger Company as the playground installer. They made sure that the volunteers were safely and properly installing the playground.

By 4 p.m., to everyone’s amazement, the playground structure was assembled. Said Patty, “The day of the build I walked around the site overcome with emotion.”

The Carneys Point Township now has responsibility of the playground, but the group, “A Place For Sami” continues to raise money for landscaping and maintenance.

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