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New inclusive playground at Children's Mercy is a 'game changer'

Posted at 6:34 AM, Oct 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-18 07:58:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From the classic swing sets to fast-spinning merry-go-rounds, playgrounds have long been a staple in a child's life, but some children never get the full experience.

Variety KC is a local children's charity working to change that.

Friday, the Sybil Silk Wood Nutter Children’s Playground at Children's Mercy Hospital will reopen with an inclusive playground for children with special needs.

"It means the world," said Nick McElroy, a father of two.

His seven-year-old son, Parker uses a wheelchair after being born at 23 1/2 weeks with cerebral palsy. He said there are no words to define what the new changes mean.

"There were no swings that he could play on," McElroy said. "There wasn't a merry-go-round that he could sit on. There wasn't a way, without one of us carrying him, for him to get on the slide and go down the slide so it was very complicated and very, very hard."

When the park opens on Friday, visitors will notice changes from the ground to the equipment. The park is no longer covered with mulch. Instead, it has a soft, foam floor, which allows easier access for children in wheelchairs, using walkers or pulling IV poles. It also has a communication board for non-verbal children and a fence to prevent children from wandering into the nearby street. There's also more space for those in wheelchairs to get onto equipment.

"What we've learned is when kids play together, they form friendships, they get exercise and they forget that kids have disabilities," said Deborah Wiebrecht, the executive director of Variety Children's Charity of Greater KC.

Wiebrecht hopes the new park will send an impactful message about making a cultural change. She said it allows everyone to learn tolerance, acceptance and diversity.

"I want people in Kansas City to realize that there's a population of special needs kids that need to be included and we need to break down any barrier that our city has to make these kids a part of our community," Wiebrecht said.

Parker's family understands the struggles all too well and hopes more areas in the city follow Variety KC's example.

"Not only do we have Parker, but we have a 5-year-old daughter and for her, going to a playground means having to leave brother behind. So, having somewhere to go where she can play with him is everything," McElroy said. "Playgrounds like this are complete game changers in the world."

The revamped playground was partly funded by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. His 15 and the Mahomies Foundation donated $15,000. Sporting KC funded the zero-entry merry-go-round. Other sponsors included The Kansas City Royals and Danny Duffy.

The grand opening on Friday kicks off at 3:30 p.m.