The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has announced “Level the Playing Field,” a new grant program that provides funding for local playground upgrades that enable children with disabilities to enjoy healthy outdoor activities with their families, friends, and neighbors.

All 21 municipalities in Union County are eligible to apply for the program, which will provide a total of $300,000 in grants through the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The grants can go to add accessible elements to existing playgrounds or establish new playgrounds with accessible elements.

Level the Playing Field 2017 is designed to assist in meeting the needs of the special needs populations throughout the County of Union.  The County of Union has accessible playgrounds and accessible playground elements throughout the county park system. Helping to address this on the municipal level will propel our county forward as a model for others throughout the State of New Jersey,” said Freeholder Vice Chairman Sergio Granados, who chairs the Trust Fund Committee and is the liaison to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

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“Inclusive, accessible playgrounds benefit everyone. They offer all the opportunity to play alongside one another and help to create a sense of community. People with disabilities enjoy the benefits of active play, including social skills and overall health.  At the same time, people without disabilities learn valuable lessons about the world, including that everyone has similarities and differences,” Granados explained. “Every person should be able to enjoy a playground in or near their neighborhood that takes away the barriers of exclusion, both physical and social, providing a ‘sensory rich’ experience for all.”

“The new grant program reaffirms the Freeholder Board’s commitment to inclusion and equality for all County residents,” Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen said. “By helping to make County parks and local playgrounds more accessible, we encourage more families to practice healthier habits and form closer bonds with friends and neighbors.”

One recent highlight of accessibility improvements in County parks is last year’s opening of the first fully accessible playground in Union County. Located in Mattano Park in Elizabeth, the new playground features a Merry-Go-All, Roller Slide, Roller Table, Swing Seats and more.

The Freeholder Board also broke ground today, October 20, for the construction of Union County’s first all-inclusive Sensory Trial. The new 0.3-mile loop in the Watchung Reservation includes a braille trail with rope guides and nature-themed play structures among other elements designed for the enjoyment of all visitors to the park.

Applications for Level the Playing Field were mailed to each of the 21 municipalities today. The deadline for submission is December 19.

The new grant initiative complements ongoing County recreation and enrichment programs for people with physical and cognitive impairments, including the Sensory Friendly Theatre series sponsored by the Freeholder Board at the Union County Performing Arts Center, and programs for people with disabilities at the County’s Ulrich Swimming Pool, Watchung Stables and Trailside Nature and Science Center.

The Freeholder Board also provides funding for inclusive events including annual fishing derbies, an ice skating social, summer carnival and barn dance, as well as programs for popular activities including golf, karate, yoga, and volleyball.

For all Union County programs and services visit ucnj.org, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email info@ucnj.org or use the online Contact Form.

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