UNION — A groundbreaking for a very special playground represents another step toward Union County becoming an “ALL Inclusive” community according to the executive director of the Miracle League of Union County.
In a ceremony Tuesday evening attended by local government officials, representatives of local institutions and the business community, Miracle League families and other supporters, the MLUC broke ground for the “ALLstar Park.” The park, which will be located next to the MLUC ballfield at the Timken Sports Complex, will be designed to provide play and recreation for everyone including children and adults with disabilities or diseases like multiple sclerosis, older adults with physical challenges, injured veterans, and children with Autism.
Tuesday’s ceremony began with an address by MLUC Executive Director Amy Austin who said the ceremony “celebrates the visible beginning of another dream come true in the journey of Union County becoming ALL Inclusive. This is a joyous occasion, as we are blessed to be part of such a caring and supportive community. Today, as we commemorate the groundbreaking for an inspiring and creative playground, we are celebrating among friends.”
Austin said those friends include the Timken Family Foundation of Canton, Ohio; Barbara Rippy; the Union Rotary Club; the Union Medical Center Volunteers; the City of Union; and Union County.
“Friends who share our vision and aspiration for the future of ALL people,” Austin said. “Friends who recognize the uniqueness of every person and realize that no one should ever have to be excluded based on a disability. Friends who are leaders, who will inspire the next generation to be leaders. Friends and donors who have stepped up to expand their levels of support to make this dream come true.”
The construction of the park is projected to cost $350,000 and is being financed with donated funds and funds raised by the MLUC in cooperation with other local organizations. The MLUC kicked off its fundraising efforts in February by staging a fashion show in cooperation with the Union Civitan Club and the Belk store. The donations to the effort include a $75,000 gtrant from the Timken Foundation, a $10,000 donation from the Union Rotary Club, and donations from private individuals like a $3,000 donation the MLUC received in January. The MLUC is in the process of trying to raise funds to match the grant from the Timken Foundation which will donate another $75,000 if the matching funds are raised by the end of July.
During her address, Austin spoke of the MLUC’s efforts to raise those funds and expressed confidence that it would achieve that goal before the July deadline.
“We believe that this balance can be raised a lot sooner than that and are going to challenge others in the community to help us reach that goal now,” Austin said. “Since we were challenged with the matching grant, we have raised $17,000 and received other donations totaling $20,000. What started out just a little over a year ago as a $350,000 dream is very close to becoming a reality and we could not be more happy, proud and thankful. We can do it and we believe we can do it now.”
Shortly after Austin spoke those words the MLUC moved closer to achieving that goal when Rippy, who was attending the ceremony, presented her with a check for $5,000.
Rippy followed up her donation by calling for the eight gold-painted shovels used to break ground to be auctioned off at $100 apiece. In the ensuing auction all the shovels were sold raising $1,700 thanks to one individual who purchased a shovel for $1,000.
Austin also praised all those who have worked to help make the playground a reality.
“Like the leaders and builders before us, the project that we are celebrating today has required leadership, foresight and much planning,” Austin said. “This is not something that one person has done alone. The Miracle League of Union County is a board including Tiffany Smith, Sherri Williams, Heather Vinson, Sara O’Shields, Betsy Hudson, Amanda Gallman, Jessica Gallman, Derick Means, Greta Bailey, Becky Cobb and Tommy Sinclair are all board members who work together.
“Along with our board are also many volunteers who also work hard so that no one has to be left out or sit and watch as others play, grow and learn,” she said. “And because we are part of such a wonderful community, we have come a long way in just a short amount of time.”
In an especially emotional part of her address, Austin also discussed the uniqueness of the playground pointing to posters that illustrated how it will make it possible for children to play regardless of their condition.
“For siblings like Jemorah and Momo, they will be able to play together on every piece of equipment,” Austin said. “I can hear their laughter now as they soar side by side on our 66 foot long ZiKrooze. Jemorah will be in an assisted seat and her brother on a disc seat, racing to see who can get to the other end first.
“Children with Autism will be able to run freely with their friends and when they are over stimulated, they will be able to feel safe while exploring the inside of the Cozy Dome,” she said. “Children with low vision, blindness and hearing disabilities will learn and have fun alongside their friends at the sensory panels. Parents, grandparents and caretakers will be able to access much of the equipment and take part as their children make new friends and memories on this playground.”
Austin further illustrated the impact of the park by pointing to the family of Kevin Brewington, a Jonesville resident who lost both legs in Afghanistan.
“It is a dream come true and what a blessing it will be for everyone to enjoy,” Austin said. “It will impact many lives and the benefit will be immeasurable. As you can read on our Facebook page, Kevin Brewington and his wife have not taken their child to a playground yet. They want their first experience to be one that Kevin can actually be a part of and not have to just sit and watch from a distance as his little girl smiles, laughs and plays without him.”
To contribute to the MLUC’s efforts to raise the matching funds for the Timken Foundation grant call 864-466-7879, contact an MLUC board member, or visit The Miracle League of Union County Facebook page or website at www.themiracleleagueofunioncounty.org.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.