This story was originally reported and published through Noticias, WUFT News’ Spanish language news service. Video by WUFT’s Joseline Donoso.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus welcomes all children with arms wide open. In Gainesville, a Methodist church decided to do the same with the opening of an inclusive playground — a place where all kids can come and have the same chance to have fun.
“I don’t believe that it’s a child’s disability that hinders them from being able to play,” Melissa Pisco, Celebration United Methodist Church’s pastor, said. “I believe it is how we design our playgrounds that hinders them from being able to play.”
The playground “Let Them Come” is located at 9501 SW Archer Rd. and is open to everyone. It has reclining swings for children with bone or muscle problems, swings for children in wheelchairs, a sandbox and flooring that doesn’t interfere with the kids’ mobility.
In addition, the place has a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round whose speed can be adjusted with a lever, which adds to making the children’s experience much safer, Pisco added.
“Every child needs to know they’re loved,” Pisco said. “First and foremost, every child needs to feel that there’s a place for them around the table.”
The project began two years ago, when the church adopted a new vision statement to be a community that follows Jesus Christ and is committed to people’s integral healing. This includes spiritual, emotional and physical healing, Pisco said.
“We decided that we would intentionally build a fully accessible playground,” Pisco said, “so children of all abilities could play side by side — in the same space.”
In two years, the church, composed of about 100 members, worked alongside the community to fundraise about $55,000 and carry out the project.
The money came from fundraising events in collaboration with nonprofit organizations such as Xtraordinary Joy and Queen of Peace, a Catholic church. The church also received money from companies like Clay Electric, a utility company.
“It’s really being built by and for the community,” Pisco said. “We want to continue to learn and grow about how we can be partners with families in our community to provide safe and welcoming spaces for all kids.”
Amy Meacham, Xtraordinary Joy’s founder and president, said the playground represents more than just a place for kids to play.
“It represents support from our community,” Meacham said. “It represents adults believing in and doing something — empowering others to do good things.”
Meacham’s 6-year-old daughter, Moriah, has an ultra-rare chromosome disorder that only 30 other children around the world have. It affects her learning abilities, her muscular composition and her language skills, among other things. But because the playground is accessible for everyone, it serves as a safe, inclusive and judgement-free space for her, Meacham said.
The playground project doesn’t end now. This is just the first phase, Pisco said.
She said the church doesn’t know when the second phase will begin because there’s a need of about $50,000 more to build it. However, it will include an all-inclusive slide, a standard one and a climbing structure.
“The children all have the same desire — they all have the same needs,” Pisco said. “We don’t want anything to hinder them from coming and having fun, and growing, and laughing, and making friends and just being everything that God created them to be.”