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Accessible to all

State's first wheelchair accessible playground unveiled in Joliet

Rex Robinson | 10/24/2013, 3:02 p.m.
Students and adults with cerebral palsy and other physical and mental challenges joined elected officials and dignitaries in Joliet Thursday ...
Jim Mullins, UCP President and CEO, speaks at the ribbon cutting and grand opening Thursday of the state's first fully wheelchair-accessible playground on the grounds of the United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Praierieland, 311 S. Reed Street, Joliet. Photo by Rex Robinson

Students and adults with cerebral palsy and other physical and mental challenges joined elected officials and dignitaries in Joliet Thursday morning for the unveiling of the state’s first fully wheelchair-accessible playground.

Students and adults who use wheelchairs now have a playground to call their own on the grounds of United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Prairieland at 311 S. Reed Street in Joliet.

The playground cost about $230,000, money raised through donations and various fundraising activities. It features everything from wheelchair accessible swing-sets, slides and other playground equipment to a specially designed padded surface for wheelchairs.

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Joliet City Councilman Larry Hug

United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Prairieland is a non-profit school and adult day care facility for those with cerebral palsy and other mental and physical impairments.

“With any project, the easy part is the designing of the project. The hard part is the funding of the project,” Bret Mitchell, past chairman of the UCP board of directors, said. “We felt very comfortable though that there would be people who would come out from the community and help us and they have in a very, very big way.”

Contributors to the playground project included staff, parents, friends of UCP, Will Grundy Sportsmen’s for Charity UCP, the Reedwood Neighborhood Association, the Terry Marketti Memorial Donation, Coal City Firemen’s Association, Schneider National Foundation, UCP Board of Directors, Central Rehab Therapy, Joliet Rotary Club and PFA Systems, Inc.

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R. Dale Evans

R. Dale Evans, president of the Reedwood Neighborhood Association, said UCP of Illinois Prairieland is a beacon of hope in the community. The playground, Evans added, provides something special for the children and adults of UCP.

“I look forward to driving by and seeing families and children on swings that have never had the opportunity to swing,” Evans said.

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Sue Knaperak, Director of School Services at UCP who served on the playground committee, was on hand Thursday for the ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony of the new playground.

Sue Knaperak, director of school services at the facility, said seeing everyone pull together for the children and adults of UCP of Illinois Prairieland has been the highest point in her 10 years working at the facility.

“It’s a very emotional day,” a teary-eyed Knaperak said. “It’s just amazing.”

The playground, she added, is not just for the children and adults of the facility, but also is open to all surrounding schools with students in wheelchairs as well as area families who have children or adults in wheelchairs living with them.

Alysha Welch, of Joliet, was all smiles that her 3-year-old son, Michael “Mudd” Welch who uses a wheelchair and attends school at UCP, now has a playground to call his own.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “He’s going to be able to play on a swing-set just like every other kid does. I’m so happy.”

Planning for the playground began two years ago and it was UCP’s president and CEO Jim Mullins who really got the ball rolling on the project, according to Elois Crabb, director of fund development for UCP. Construction of the playground got underway in August, Crabb said.

While the playground equipment has been installed and can now be used by the children and adults of UCP and area families and school children, there is more work to be done. Future plans call for adding lighting, walking paths around the playground and picnic tables, Crabb said.

“It’s going to truly be a park atmosphere,” Crabb said.

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State Sen. Patrick McGuire

A number of elected officials were on hand for the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the new playground, including Joliet City Councilmen Larry Hug, Bob O’Dekirk and Jim McFarland, as well s U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (R-Naperville), state Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Joliet), Larry Burich, chairman of the UCP Board of Directors and other members of the board.