By Angelle Boudreaux, HIRED! ProgramJune 14, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- There's a new playground on post at Catfish Cove. There are slides, swings and other state-of-the-art play equipment, but this isn't your ordinary playground. This is a "Boundless Playground," which means it's accessible by all children, with or without disabilities.
The park officially opened June 4 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Despite a constant drizzle, Fort Polk dignitaries, Soldiers and Family members were outside and ready to celebrate the new play area.
The big yellow ribbon was waiting for Avery Gronski, 12, an exceptional Family member who was chosen to cut the ribbon at the event. "I can't believe everybody's here supporting me," said Gronoski. With a huge smile, she cut the ribbon to let the play begin. "The park is totally cool," said Gronski.
The playground was constructed thanks to the efforts of Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works and Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "The contract to build the playground was facilitated through the efforts of Fort Polk's Department of Public Works and Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation," said Pam Evans, director of Fort Polk's Army Community Service. "Our Soldiers and Family members are going to use this play area. They deserve this kind of park."
The business of creating a world where all children can gain developmental health benefits derived from unstructured play has been the goal of Boundless Playgrounds since 1997. "They have been the leading national nonprofit developer of nearly 200 of these inclusive playgrounds in 31 states and Canada. There are currently another 100 in development and Fort Polk can now be added to the list," said Col. Francis Burns, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk garrison commander.
According to Burns, nearly 40 million Americans are affected by disabilities -- 3.6 million between the ages of 5 and 15 have some documented disability.
Everyone including exceptional Family members, children, parents, grandparents, military veterans and Family members with disabilities or limited mobility can navigate the playground, said Burns. "This is a place where none are categorized by physical, sensory, cognitive or special needs. This is where a child, regardless of their disability, can play right alongside a fully able child climbing, sliding and dreaming," said Burns.
The park includes:
Aca,!Ac Ramps throughout the playground -- "This allows wounded warriors, parents or children with any type of disability the capability to safely maneuver through the play equipment using wheelchairs, walkers or braces," said Evans.
Aca,!Ac Safety belts -- The swings at the park are equipped with belts for added security.
Aca,!Ac Deck safety -- The floor of the playground is a smooth surface that allows for easy access by wheelchairs. The floor has "spring" so if anyone should fall, they would be less likely to be hurt, said Evans.
Because of these safety measures, parents can worry less about their children's well being. "I can come and relax knowing my kids are having a good time and are safe," said Allison Davis, a Fort Polk parent.
"This is a place that clearly demonstrates the Army's commitment to making life easier for children with disabilities and raising awareness about the importance of inclusion. At the heart of Boundless Playground's work is the belief that every child has a right to experience the power of play," said Burns.
Once kids began playing, they seemed to approve of the new equipment. "The park is thumbs up good," said Sedrick Davis, 9.
"The park is good. I love the spinning thing," said Mikelle Mason, 8.
(Editor's note: This story was written by a Child, Youth and School Services HIRED! Program participant, Angelle Boudreaux, with help from the Guardian staff. Angelle is interning at Fort Polk's Public Affairs Office.)