“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius.
That is my daughter Jaiden in a nutshell. The only difference is that wherever she goes, she goes with all her heart and with a lime green walker. Still, she loves life and everything she does is an expression of what is in her heart.
You’ve probably seen her. She doesn’t blend in well. Jet black hair, gorgeous brown eyes and skin and that cute little lime green walker. No, we didn’t make her. But we adopted her at birth. And unbeknownst to us, she had a stroke in utero. No matter. It was the best decision we ever made. She changed our lives and I cannot begin to tell you how often I am told what an impact Jaiden has made on other lives.
Wherever she goes, she goes with all her heart and then some. But wherever she goes, there are hazards. Even the smallest pebble can “rock” her world. And she has the scars to prove it.
Since day one, after learning of Jaiden’s stroke, we made a decision to raise her in an “adapt and overcome” environment. After all, the world is unlikely to adapt to Jaiden just because she has a walker. She has to know that she may very well have to go it alone against the rock, gravel and mulch playgrounds of the world. But just last week, I visited the new Garfield (old Lincoln) during recess. In the ten minutes I was there, four children were injured during recess from one single class. None of them were Jaiden.
One of them was my younger daughter Jordyn.
When Jordyn complains about something I won’t let her do that is somewhat dangerous, I always ask her, “What is my first job as your mom?”
Her response: “To keep me safe.”
I have failed her and I have failed Jaiden. That is because over 200,000 children are injured every year on playgrounds nationwide. The majority of those injuries are related to falls on hard playground surfaces.
I love our school district. I am a product of Augusta schools. We purposely moved back to Augusta to give Jaiden more opportunities that we were confident she would receive in USD 402. But because of her walker, she is not safe at recess. Neither is Jordyn who does not use a walker. Neither is any other child if the child falls on a hard playground surface.
It is important that I add that currently all USD 402 playgrounds meet state codes and ADA accessibility requirements. The district is doing their part. But in many ways, recess is a form of punishment for Jaiden. She has the blacktop so she runs and runs and runs but she can’t get to the swings. She can’t cruise over to the slide. She can’t access any of the equipment that has a mulch surface below because wheelchairs, walkers and even crutches simply do not mix well with mulch.
As we all know, the heart often wants what it cannot have… but our children, regardless of ability or disability should have safe playground surfaces.
On March 27, 2012, kindergarten teacher Karen McAnulty and I created Project Jai Play during a brainstorming session after we visited El Dorado’s all-access Summit Park with many of Garfield’s Playground Committee. Project Jai Play became official this week.
The mission of Project Jai Play is to provide an environment that is safe and conducive for all children to freely experience the simple childhood pleasures of play. It is our goal to help provide funding for playground surfaces that are safe and accessible to all, no matter a child’s needs, abilities or disabilities.
Project Jai Play is a special project fund through Central Kansas Community Foundation of Butler County to raise funds for safe playground surfaces such as rubber footing. (All donations are tax-deductible as Central Kansas Community Foundation of Butler County is a 501c3.)
On May 14, 2012, we hope to present to the USD 402 Board of Education. We are currently receiving donations but need to seek the school board’s approval to help fund a safe surface for Garfield as our pilot project. We hope to let their playground budget be for equipment while we cover the surface (literally and figuratively). We only need $30,000. Collective gasp! Only $30,000. And we’ve already received pledges. Beyond that, we hope to tackle the rest of Augusta. Maybe even the world.
Please visit HYPERLINK "http://www.projectjaiplay.org" www.projectjaiplay.org for more information. It is important to state that while we hope to make playgrounds accessible to all, we are focused on the safe surfaces. With that, children will be able to get to the equipment safely and play on the equipment based on their abilities. And if or when they fall, the injuries won’t be as bad.
This is not about asking the world to adapt to Jaiden. This is about asking our community to help make playground surfaces safe for all children. No more mulch. No more gravel. Plenty of blacktop to get sparks flyin’ off those walker wheels. But the really fun equipment needs to be on a soft surface that helps reduce brain injuries, horrific splinters, embedded gravel and more.
This isn't just about special needs children. This is about all children having the ability to safely enjoy our playgrounds.
Wherever our children go, let them go safely with all their heart.
Jaime Simpson is a local business owner, busy wife and mother of two, and a Gazette columnist.