MICHAEL’S PLAYGROUND: New playground celebrated for serving kids with all abilities

0
2173

Michael’s Playground is named in memory of the grandson of Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell. Michael had a rare genetic disorder, Hunter Syndrome. The park is inclusive with features for children of all abilities to enjoy.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — It’s been five weeks since the ribbon cutting at Michael’s Playground — the inclusive play area behind Greenfield Central Junior High School — but Karli Purciful still gets the same warm, fuzzy feelings whenever she thinks of the playground that was named in her late son’s honor.

Michael George, the grandson of Greenfield mayor Chuck Fewell, had a rare genetic disorder called Hunter Syndrome. The Greenfield community rallied around him and his family throughout Michael’s life, many wearing purple each May for Hunter Syndrome awareness day.

The boy who loved milkshakes, playgrounds and swimming at his grandparents’ pool lived years beyond initial expectations, passing away in March 2019 at the age of 15.

Last month, the Greenfield Parks Department officially unveiled the new playground, which was specifically designed to accommodate all children, both those with and without disabilities.

“It has a merry-go-round that can accommodate a wheelchair, two types of swings and a ramp where wheelchair users can access different levels of the playground,” Parks Superintendent Ellen Kuker said.

“We also have musical instruments and will soon be adding a sensory wall to the west of the playground, probably in 2023,” she said.

The playground also has a smooth, spongy surface — rather than wood or rubber mulch — which makes it compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.

Sara Cummins, director of FUSE (Families United for Support and Encouragement) and the parent of a child with disabities, said the park is a much-needed and appreciated addition to the community.

“It definitely makes for a better inclusive community and creates awareness, so I’m very appreciative of that and all those who worked on the project,” she said. “The fact that our community recognizes the need for it is a big plus.”

The park was funded in part by Stellar Community funds from Indiana’s Office of Community and Rural Affirs (OCRA).

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who oversees OCRA as well as the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Task Force, spoke highly of the park at its ribbon cutting June 18.

“We have 100,000 Hoosiers who have down syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism, and through the (intellectual and developmental disabilities) task force we work to ensure they can live, work, play, study and stay in safe, accessible, affordable environments,” she said, “because our friends with disabilities are really just friends with different abilities, and they have the same hopes and dreams and desires as each and every one of us. They want to have a job and have friends and love and be loved, and be successful in life.”

Brett Fischer, a physical therapist who works with children with disabilities, also spoke highly of the park at last month’s ribbon cutting.

Through his New Castle-based company, 321Go Kids, Fischer said he and his staff teach families with disabilities and families without disabilities how to build a shared sense of community. Michael’s playground is a perfect example of that, he said.

“One of the interesting things when working with kids is you start to realize the power of joy that they bring, often in something as simple as a smile. When you give them accessibility to life and opportunities (like this park brings), it’s powerful,” he said.

Cummins said the park is a huge step forward for Hancock County becoming an accessible community where people of all abilities can live, work and play together.

Lt. Gov. Crouch echoed that sentiment, saying the playground should make local leaders and residents proud. She commended families like Michael’s who advocate for accessibility for all.

“God puts special people in our lives for a reason, and while I never met Michael, I know that he was that special person for this community,” she said.