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Goshen High School student honored for her advocacy for special needs park

Goshen News - 12/19/2018

Dec. 19--GOSHEN -- A Goshen High School student who encouraged the Goshen Parks and Recreation Department to construct the city's first all-inclusive playground received recognition Tuesday for her advocacy for the disabled and special needs community.

Laura Elliott received the Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability Award from wheelchair van and lift manufacturer BraunAbility during a ceremony held Tuesday at the high school, according to a press release from the city of Goshen.

In addition to the award, Elliott was presented with a trophy and a $10,000 donation to the parks department to help fund the completion of the all-inclusive playground, which is set to be constructed at Goshen'sHay Park, 1414 Plymouth Ave.

"Thanks to the courage Laura displayed when she wrote her letter campaigning for this inclusive park, finally ... Hay Park will be the home of a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of ability," Greg Kiser, vice president of consumer sales for BraunAbility, said during the ceremony.

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman announced at the ceremony that the city is looking to break ground on the new playground in the spring of 2019, according to the release.

"We're really excited about how this fundraising came together, but what was most exciting is that we had a great committee of people who helped us design this park," Stutsman said. "It was really exciting to see Laura was involved in the planning process and can now oversee the park being built along the way."

Elliott was also praised by her family and one of her teachers, all of whom worked with her to get her letter to the city back in early 2017.

"There are several students that care about others, but Laura has taken that care to a new level where she loves and wants to give to all regardless of what it takes," said Sean Smuts, a special needs teacher at the high school. "She exhibits a concern and love that time and time again is truly selfless. This park is evidence of that."

Elliott's mother, Rochelle Elliott, thanked BraunAbility and expressed how important it was for her daughter's dream to become reality, the release stated.

"Laura has such a caring and compassionate heart for people with life challenges," she said. "She wants them to have the same opportunities to participate in every day play without limitations."

The Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability Award is presented to people who emulate the qualities that BraunAbility founder Ralph Braun displayed: selflessness, compassion and an unwavering dedication to do what is right for people in the disability community, according to the release. The award is given at BraunAbility community events across the United States and Canada.

PARK FUNDRAISER

Parks department officials in late November announced that the department's "$50,000 in 50 Days" fundraising campaign for the new playground, launched Oct. 22 through the online crowd-funding platform Patronicity, had not only met, but significantly exceeded its goal.

According to the site, the fundraiser had generated nearly $75,000 by its Dec. 11 deadline.

According to Goshen Parks Superintendent Tanya Heyde, by successfully raising $50,000 within 50 days of the fundraiser's launch, the department qualified for a $50,000 match for the project through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority's CreatINg Places program. Additional funding for the project has also been partially provided by the Kerry Finningan Rupright Foundation and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

All additional funds raised for the project will go toward more features for the playground and general Hay Park improvements, Heyde explained.

"This project is truly a community endeavor," Heyde added of the new playground in a recent statement. "The support that has been received is remarkable, from financial contributions to volunteering, from sharing our story to serving on the design committee. The community has really embraced the inclusive playground."

PLAYGROUND PLAN

For residents of all ages with mobility or developmental challenges and other disabilities, the playground will feature ramps, wider sidewalks and special equipment that will give them access to any part of the playground, including the highest points, Heyde explained.

According to Kimberlee Stephens, recreation supervisor for the parks department, while all Goshen playgrounds meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, the new inclusive playground will add elements that encourage engagement among everyone using the park.

"One of the struggles families with disabilities face is fewer places to meet and be part of the community," Stephens recently said of the project. "According to a study on physical and developmental disabilities, 53 percent of kids with disabilities spent less than two hours a week with their peers outside of class. By making playgrounds inclusive, it solves this problem by allowing children of all abilities to play together and learn from each other. Inclusive playgrounds encourage play, which leads to mutual understanding, friendships and a stronger sense of community."

Planning for the new playground began with a committee made up of both residents and city staff. Once formed, the group set out to identify and list all of the resources that would be needed in order to see the project completed, Heyde explained. Designs were created, and Hay Park, located at 1414 W. Plymouth Ave., was identified as the best location for the new playground.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN

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(c)2018 the Goshen News (Goshen, Ind.)

Visit the Goshen News (Goshen, Ind.) at www.goshennews.com

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