Touted as a recreational breakthrough because it gave unique opportunity to children with physical disabilities, the HandiPark over the past 2 1/2 decades has served its purpose, and done it quite well.
It has brought smiles to the faces of so many children who previously had no such access to physical exercise.
It has brought joy to the families of these same youngsters who longed for a place to share the fresh air of the wonderful outdoors with their children.
It has brought distinction to a community of caring Cleveland and Bradley County residents who have taken great pride in pointing to the colorful little park that demonstrated a people’s love and concern for the disabled.
It has brought added belief in the public education system, and in Stuart School particularly, as the host site for this glorious gift to our Cleveland hometown.
It has brought opportunity to other city and county jurisdictions whose government leaders have visited and pursued their own quests for such a remarkable facility.
It has brought innovative and outside-the-box thinking to other school systems whose boards and directors have toured in order to form partnerships of their own toward establishing such recreational pastimes.
It has brought ideas into the minds of other civic organizations — some local, some from outside the community — on how they too can reach out to this valued segment of society whose needs are complex yet whose voice is not always heard.
As inconceivable as it may seem that the HandiPark is truly 25 years old — wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that leaders cut a ribbon for this historic dedication? — the truth is that this tribute to fair-mindedness has aged. Time and weather have taken their toll. It is a familiar story. No one stops time. No amount of creative thinking can halt the process.
Yet, the impact of such inevitabilities in life are lessened by community groups who get involved.
In a heartwarming gesture, the same Cleveland Civitan Club responsible for the original HandiPark took ownership again three years ago to right what age has wronged. In a vast fundraising initiative that raised $170,000 and which culminated with the physical labors of Civitan members and community volunteers, the old park has been taken down and replaced with an exciting and new playground.
It now is recognized as the Cleveland Civitan Inclusive Playground. In the words of Ann Marie Brewer, a Civitan member, the new park is, “A playground for everyone! Accessible to all!”
Like its predecessor that met the requirements and guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the new park once again meets the seven Principles of Inclusive Playground Design which include Be Fair, Be Included, Be Smart, Be Independent, Be Safe, Be Active and Be Comfortable.
The park was dedicated Aug. 1, and assuredly is in full use by kids of all ages and sizes, regardless of physical or developmental handicap. Even a few parents are getting in on the fun.
Special credit goes to all volunteers and donors who played a hand in the total restoration of our HandiPark, and to three organizations in particular who donated $50,000 each to the cause — George R. Johnson Family Foundation, Bradley County and Healthy Community Initiative, and Don Ledford Automotive Center. Some 30 donors gave to this cause. All are to be commended for their community vision.
We echo the words of Bradley County Commissioner J. Adam Lowe who said at the dedication, “At the end of the day, Civitan understands quality of life. Quality of life says this, ‘When we do for those who can’t do for themselves, we do for ourselves indirectly.’”
Thank you, Civitan.
Thank you, Cleveland and Bradley County community.
Once again, your loving hand of outreach has given to those most in need.