LIVINGSTON, NJ – Livingston has been trying to find a way to create a fully-adaptive recreation area and now, after two years—that dream has been realized with a $150,000 Grant from the Essex County Open Space Local Aid Program.
“For over two years,” stated SYLS Director Jennifer Hessberger, “finding a way to create a fully-adaptive recreation area within Livingston has been an important goal.”
She added, “Adaptive Recreation Coordinator Mark Silance has added dozens of programs for children with special needs – art, music, photography, the “Shining Star Sports League,” and a special “Shadow” program, which offers specific training to teens and young adults to enable them to work more effectively with children with Special Needs. The response from the community has been extremely positive and encouraging.”
“Now, it looks like our goal is within reach,” said Hessberger.
That goal is in reach thanks to the ongoing efforts of the members of the Township’s Senior, Youth & Leisure Services Department (SYLS) and a $150,000 Grant from the Essex County Open Space Local Aid Program. That Grant money will cover approximately half the cost creating the adaptive recreation area; however, it comes with a stipulation—the work must be completed within one year.
The Livingston Township SYLS provides integrated and comprehensive services that promote the welfare of the community, the positive development of youth, support for seniors, and strengthening of families. Programs range from pre-school to after-school and adult education to youth camps, sports, and senior programs. SYLS works to offer something for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or disabilities. The members of SYLS pride themselves on embracing the diversity of our community.
“One of the first steps when expanding the programming was choosing a location,” said Hessberger, “Monmouth Court Community Center is centrally located and offers variety of ‘spaces’. There’s a gymnasium and a large multi-purpose room, in addition to T-ball fields, soccer fields, and playground space.” The location is also secluded from any major roadways which provide a “safe” and “quiet” environment, both of which are very necessary for children with Special Needs. However, it is also very easy to locate, which was important as well, because approximately 25 percent of our current participants are families from other, surrounding towns.
Monmouth Court Community Center building itself has been upgraded and improved in order to increase accessibility for the Special Needs population. Thus far, an elevator, new sidewalks, additional handicapped parking, air conditioning in the gymnasium, padding on the gym walls, and adjustable basketball backboards have all been installed. Soon, the bathrooms will be redesigned to be more ADA accessible, and the parking lot will be repaved.
The Monmouth Court playground, however, is another story. Outdated and unsafe, the playground was actually closed down last year by Township Engineer Rich Calbi. It’s mostly wooden structure was old and consisted of numerous ladders and steps. The flooring of the play area was made up of wood chips.
“There’s currently nothing at the Monmouth Court playground that would appeal to a child in a wheelchair or one who requires any walking assistance at all,” said Mayor Michael Rieber. The playground area is old and is not user friendly for Special Needs groups.
“Thanks to the input of a variety of groups and the efforts of Jennifer Hessberger, we’ll be able to turn that plan into a reality with the $150,000 we’ll receive from the Essex County Open Space Local Aid Program,” stated Rieber.
Local parents with Special Needs children, the Livingston School District Physical Therapist, the Board of Education, and the Livingston Advisory Committee on Disabilities, along with members of the Township’s Department of Public Works and Engineering Department worked together to complete a design they thought would give access to all of our children at all levels of ability.
Some of their key points are: two ramps to provide both entrance and exit access to all, including those in wheelchairs, various manipulatives for sensory and fine motor skills, a shaded structure to provide a cooling place for those that are prone to seizures and overheating, and, specialized supportive swings. All of this will sit on top of the most critical element: the newly poured rubberized flooring. This flooring material will allow for full access for all children.
“I’m proud to be a parent in a community that appreciates and celebrates the differences between people,” stated Mayor Rieber. “This Essex County grant offers us a special opportunity to create an environment that will foster positive social interactions and where all of our children and their families can experience the feeling of success.”
“This fully adaptive playground will be an area that everyone in Livingston can be proud of,” said Jennifer Hessberger. “We’re delighted to receive this Grant. I credit our dedicated staff and our consistent, progressive programming in this area.” However, the Township will need to raise the remaining funds for the playground. “Because the Grant stipulates that the work must be completed within one year,” says Hessberger, “we must now raise the additional funding.
A fund raising committee is being put together and will implement several fund raising opportunities will be available throughout the upcoming year. For more information or to make a donation, please visit the Senior, Youth & Leisure Services page on the Township website at www.livingstonnj.org, or call 973-535-7925.