For one week in September 2008, over two thousand strangers gathered in Port Washington Wisconsin to build a dream. This was no coincidence. It all began a year earlier, when Mardy McGarry recognized a need. As a special education teacher for 29 years, Mardy was no stranger to the needs of children in South Eastern Wisconsin. She felt the frustration of her students as she took them to playgrounds in the area, only to find that they had difficulty playing with the other children. Balance, strength, and mobility issues all presented a unique challenge. The dream of Possibility Playground was born.
It wasn’t until Mardy met Sue Mayer, the parent of one of her students, that the dream began to take shape. Sue is the parent of three children, two with learning disabilities. She is also the Director of the Wisconsin Chapter of NACD (www.nacd.org) an organization that empowers parents to work with their children and help them reach their full potential. Inspired by her son Sam who has Down syndrome, a brain injury, Apraxia and hearing loss, she immediately saw the benefit of a playground built for all children of all abilities. Sue had often used playgrounds when homeschooling Sam to turn learning into a game. If Sam was able to read a word, he would get to go down the slide. Suddenly he wasn’t just joining letters to make a word, he was reading words to create an adventure. However, the benefits of the playground didn’t stop there. Sue was able to use climbers on the playground to help Sam develop his muscles as well as his mind. Sue writes about her journey and adventures with Sam on her blog (www.suemayer-specialneedsmom.blogspot.com).
Mardy and Sue teamed up to create Possibility Playground, a place where all children are able to learn and play at the same time. It began as a project sponsored by the Kiwanis Club in 2007, but quickly grew to become its own entity. The City of Port Washington donated a beautiful piece of land in Upper Lake Park on a bluff above Lake Michigan, and the dream began to take off. By the fall of 2007, the project had been issued its 501(c)3 tax-exempt status and had met its fund-raising goal of $80,000, well on its way to the final goal of $450,000.
The project kicked off with Design Day, when students around Ozaukee County met with playground experts from Leathers and Associates to design their ideal playground. They all learned from the children what challenges people with disabilities had while using a playground. Never before had they imagined the difficulty of navigating around a swing set without the gift of sight! Most importantly, the playground began to take shape as their own.
Next, steering committees were formed to give the project direction. They focused on fundraising, managing donations, and finding volunteers and equipment. A special thank you goes out to all of our steering committee members-
Mardy McGarry, Sue and Jeff Mayer, Melissa Niemeyer,
Stacy Peters, Cindy Dasbach, Heidi Bertler, Liz Bannon,
Chris King, Sid Arthur, John Sigwart, Carol Lemke,
Samantha Williams, Cate Babcock, Susan Waldkirch,
Stacey Berg and Greta Schanen
After an incredible amount of work, build day was finally here.
Over the course of 6 days nearly 3,000 people volunteered to help build Possibility Playground. Supplies, time, and energy were all donated to help make this dream become a reality.