$500K raised to build special needs-safe playground

Rachael and her mother at the new outdoor learning center at Lincoln Developmental Center. (June 4, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Parents and teachers at one Grand Rapids school raised $500,000 to build a new sensory-rich playground.

Built in the 1970s, the old playground equipment at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Lincoln Developmental Center was made of wood. It was not safe for kids with special needs.

But after a five-year project that raised a half a million dollars, the playground is perfect for people with special needs.

The new outdoor learning center at Lincoln Developmental Center. (June 4, 2014)“It’s just more important for our special needs population to be more independent,” Rose Wiekierak, whose 34-year-old daughter Rachael has special needs, said. “They don’t get that many opportunities.”

The new outdoor leaning environment is designed to offer vivid sights, sounds and feelings to stimulate people with special needs.

“Even the bridge up here, it’s got different textures on the flooring,” Wiekierak showed 24 Hour News 8. “You can still feel the different vibration when you’re riding the bike.”

It’s a project that means so much to families like Wiekierak’s that it was hard for her to put into words.

“To stimulate somebody’s process of adventure, you don’t get many opportunities to instill that, or have places where we can take our children that’s going to make them excited,” said Wiekierak. “If this playground hadn’t been built, our kids still would be without that opportunity to play, be outside in the fresh air and be a part of life.”

Rachael and her mother at the new outdoor learning center at Lincoln Developmental Center. (June 4, 2014)
(Rachael and her mother at the new outdoor learning center at Lincoln Developmental Center. June 4, 2014)

“Every child, I think, deserves to run, and jump, play in the sand, get dirty, play in AstroTurf. We have it here. I think the impact is huge,” she went on to say.

The project would likely not have come to fruition on typical public school funding sources.

“When you’re looking at what’s available funding-wise, and how much it might cost to educate some of these children, and what we really need inside the building, this would have not been high on the priority list,” Lincoln Developmental Center Principal Lisa Merritt said.

So over the past five years, parents, teachers and staff at Lincoln fundraised.

Parents and staff raised funds for thee new outdoor learning center at Lincoln Developmental Center. (June 4, 2014)They wrote grants and sold bricks to pay for the project. They gathered donations from the community — ranging from $100 to $100,000 — to make the playground a reality. The Kent Intermediate School District was the largest single donor to the project, but organizers thanked the generous West Michigan community.

“It’s hard to put into words, but when you see the smile on the face and the joy in the heart, it says it all,” Wiekierak said.

The official ribbon cutting for the outdoor learning center is set for Tuesday.

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