A light morning rain couldn’t dampen the turnout or enthusiasm for the opening of the Variety KC all-inclusive playground Wednesday at the College Boulevard Activities Center in Olathe.
More than 200 children, parents and community members attended the event put on by Variety, the Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City, with most of the children christening the wheelchair-accessible playground before the official ribbon-cutting.
Located next to the baseball and softball field that Variety also helped bring to the community to serve disabled and able-bodied children, the playground is baseball-themed with its design, elements and Kansas City Royals colors.
“Last year we built (the ball field), so it just makes sense that this is an all-inclusive area in Olathe to play,” said Deborah Wiebrecht, executive director of Variety. “I think you almost have to see a facility like this to know it is needed. When able-bodied kids are in there with kids that are in wheelchairs, they’re just playing. That’s where those friendships are formed.”
Tina Taylor of Olathe attended the event with her son Ryan, who is in a wheelchair, and said the impact of an all-inclusive playground cannot be overstated.
“It’s not only wonderful for us, but for the entire community,” Taylor said. “Ryan will get to participate with other children. He’s sociable and loves to play, but usually he has to stay in the background and watch other children. This playground will allow able-bodied children and children who need assistance to play together. Having that available to us is going to be life-changing.”
Kirstin Johnson of Gardner came to the opening with her daughter Scarlet and said the little details of the playground make a big difference.
“Even for kids like Scarlet who aren’t in a chair but still have mobility delays, it’s perfect,” Johnson said. “If she falls, she’s not going to hurt herself, and there’s a lot of railings and handles for her able to climb and that’s so important for her development and mobile skills.”
The playground features a soft synthetic surface colored blue that even in the rain Wednesday didn’t seem slick.
A wheelchair-accessible ramp went from the ground all the way to the top of the blue-tinted main structure, which featured typical playground accessories such as slides, climbing apparatuses and monkey bars. Shelter areas and a small merry-go-round – both in Royals blue – accompanied the main structure.
The biggest portion of the playground’s $225,000 funding came from Royals Charities, which donated $60,000. Variety also received $25,000 from the Miracle League of Olathe and $10,000 from Greater KC Automobile Dealers, with the remaining funding coming from Variety families and volunteers.
Multiple construction, concrete and equipment companies also donated in-kind services.
“When Variety puts its name on something, it’s going to be the best in town,” said Marie Dispenza, Royals Charities director. “It’s always nice to see the final product. You see the design plans early on, but it’s always good to see the project when it’s done.”
Royals Charities also partnered with Variety to build an adaptive baseball and softball field at McCoy Park in Independence and will open another all-inclusive playground next to it later this year. Earlier this year, the organizations dedicated the area’s first all-inclusive playground at Tiffany Hills Park in Kansas City, North.
“Royals Charities is one of our biggest supporters,” Wiebrecht said. “Without them believing in total inclusion and their support, this facility would not exist.”
Wiebrecht noted the fact that people would come to the playground’s opening with less-than-ideal weather conditions shows its importance.
“I think the turnout was phenomenal,” Wiebrecht said. “I think what that says is this is such a need, that people will come in the rain to show their support and dedication.”