Arts & Entertainment

Union County Opens First Special Needs Playground

Children enjoyed the new playground. Credits: Fran Sullivan
County and local community leaders cut the ribbon for the new football field. Credits: Fran Sullivan

ELIZABETH, NJ – The first playground in the county designed for special needs children opened September 24 in Mattano Park with a Family Fun Day, hosted by the Union County Freeholder Board, that brought hundreds of residents out on a beautiful, late summer day.

“Mattano Park is one of the most used parks in the County Park System,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, explaining the location choice. “Look how many children are here. They are playing on the field, filling the playground. We are just so proud.”

So is the City of Elizabeth. “It is not every city that gets to open up a park for children of special needs,” said Mayor J.Christian Bollwage.

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Added County Manager Alfred Faella,“As you can see, there are a lot of people who use this park, and they are entitled to the same quality of recreation as people in other parts of the county.”

The playground features specially designed swings and play equipment mounted on soft flooring that minimizes injuries from falls. It was created with input from special needs parents, said Iliana Chevres, founder of Elizabeth Parents Support Group, an advocacy non-profit for special needs children.  “For children with special needs, this is really great,” said Chevres. “We have the appropriate equipment, and they are not limited in what they can use. Special needs children often feel uncomfortable. Now they have a special place to come.”

The new playground did seem to meet the needs of dozens of laughing children. “I have never seen a park like this,” said Kammy Figueroa of ARC Essex County who was there with a group of children. “It is pretty amazing. It meets the sensory needs of these children.”

The redesign also includes new turf fields for soccer and football, and a skate park. “The turf fields are overwhelming popular through the county,” said Freeholder Christopher Hudak. “So are the skate parks,” added Freeholder Linda Carter.

“Soccer is big here, so this field will get a lot of use,” said Faella.

Agreed Councilman Manny Grova, who is eager to start using the soccer field. “The county has done a great job with these improvements. As a youth soccer coach, I have a special liking for the turf they built here.”

For the screaming, laughing children, the fun has already begun. Ask what she like best about the playground, Mia Esteva said, “It is great. There are lots of colors, and babies like it, too.”

Family Fun Day was just that, enjoyed by both children and adults.  

“This is awesome,” said Marselle Nunez, client services manager for the county. “It’s a great turnout. This is the first park in the county that is designated for kids with special needs. There are swings and slides are on soft turf. It is a beautiful thing.” 

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