Hundreds came out to dedicate ‘My Backyard’, the new all-accessible playground at the Friendship Circle of Los Angeles early last month.
Following 2 years of planning and construction, the state-of-the-art playground opened its doors allowing children with special needs to play in a secured, accessible environment while encouraging play and social interaction with typical peers.
City Councilman Paul Koretz, Candidate for Los Angeles County Supervisor, Bobby Shriver and Ms. Wheelchair California 2014, Theresa De Vera, were in attendance. Guests enjoyed a joyous day of celebration featuring live entertainment, an inspirational ribbon cutting and dedication and light lunch.
“This is an enormous step towards inclusion for the Los Angeles community”, said Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, Executive Director at the Friendship Circle. “The support that this project has received illustrates how far we have comes as a community to providing equal opportunities for children of all abilities.”
The project received support from individual donors, private foundations and an $80,000 grant from RPO (Real Estate Principals Organization), a division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Features included in the playground are a water play sensory structure, a wheelchair accessible raised garden that will enable children to do seasonal planting, a larger than life distortion mirror, rhythmic spinners and a multi-sensory bicycle path. The playground’s centerpiece is California’s only integration carousel, allowing a child in a wheelchair to sit side by side with a typical peer.
Bobby Shriver, the former mayor of Santa Monica, who is a candidate for L.A. County Supervisor, said the playground is an indication of the evolution of inclusivity toward the special-needs population. His mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, created the Special Olympics in 1968 and was a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.
“It’s so inspiring to see people with special needs playing with their friends and regular people doing regular stuff. This was my mom’s goal 40 years ago — it was unimaginable, and here it is today. To see it in the flesh, it’s incredible,” Shriver said.
Long term plans include curriculum where typical children will have the opportunity to play with children who have various disabilities. The curriculum will support Jewish values and culture, developing the yard into an interactive space for physical, spiritual and communal growth. Plans include opening the yard to local schools, youth groups and special education programs fostering tolerance, understanding and cooperation between children of all abilities.
There were smiles all around as children of the Friendship Circle took on the playground with their volunteers. Everything we create here is relationship building”, said Chana Fogelman, PR Manager at the Friendship Circle.
“That’s the core of the Friendship Circle. It’s for friends to play together, volunteers to enjoy time with their buddy, and another place for kids with special needs in LA to enjoy time with Jewish friends.”
The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles was established in 2003 to address the social needs of Jewish children with special challenges. Its mission is to provide children with opportunities to engage with others through social, recreational, educational and Judaic experiences.
At the heart of all Friendship Circle programs are its 420 teen volunteers from 58 schools around Los Angeles paired with participating children to provide mentorship and friendship.