SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Children of all ages and abilities filled the Willow Park Inclusive Playground at 6:30pm on June 20th for a special Storytime and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Located behind the South Plainfield Public Library, the Willow Park Inclusive Playground is now open thanks to a generous donation of $150,000 from the Library along with the collaboration of Councilwoman Christine Faustini with the Recreation Department and many supporters who have contributed to its swift completion.
“I am so happy we are a forerunner of the all inclusive playground,” said Cheryl Nagel-Smiley, President of the South Plainfield Library Board of Trustees. “I am excited to know that all children with their families in the years to come can enjoy such a space.”
“We’re just happy to be a part of anything that betters the community, particularly the handicapped children of our community,” said President of the Recreation Commission William Cochrane. “Christine Faustini has spearheaded this whole project. She’s a go-getter and coordinated everything with the Recreation Department and the Library.”
“I’m very honored to stand here and watch all the different children enjoying the playground,” said Faustini. “I’m just happy that I had any part in making this come to fruition. It’s a wonderful day for the South Plainfield Community.”
The Willow Park Inclusive Playground encompasses an area of approximately 50 feet by 50 feet. It has slides, multi-sensory boards and wheelchair accessible routes with transfer points as well as a special ground base to make transportation by wheelchair or other handicap equipment easier.
“It’s great for kids,” said 8-year-old Login Springfield. “And it’s not like all the slides are really low like some playgrounds, so I like it a lot. It’s also good for people with disabilities because there are ramps so they can play with other kids. So if they’re in a wheelchair, they can go up the ramps. My favorite is the tire swing and the slide with the rollie pins on it.”
“It’s fantastic,” said Parent Vivian Springfield. “You can see that my kids are really enjoying it and are happy it’s here. It’s great to hit the playground after dinner and go over to the library to get a book to read before putting them into bed.”
The play structure is intended as a community playground and the objective is to include everyone, bringing children of all abilities together while providing a safe place for play. With a sensory rich environment, the playground is developmentally appropriate for all children, removing the barriers of physical and social disabilities.
“I think it’s nice and kids can play on it,” said 10-year-old Mary Springfield. “It’s fun for the kids because there are lots of playground equipment there. My favorite thing on the playground is the rope things where you have to climb on it to get to the top of the playground.”
“It’s really amazing,” said Parent Seth Hirsch. “South Plainfield does an excellent job of being very inclusive to all the residents and all the children. The mayor and everyone else always make sure the town progresses in the best of ways. I think this is a great thing for the kids and I’m very happy my daughter can be around to enjoy it.”
Library Director Linda Hansen began the Grand Opening Ceremony by gathering the children to read a children’s book called The Playground. Faustini also joined in the reading as the children sat at their feet.
“It’s wonderful to be able to do a storytime in conjunction with the opening of the park since we have all these programs for special needs,” said Hansen. “We try our best to offer support for special need parents and groups. It was wonderful to be able to take part in this storytime.”
After the story, Faustini spoke to the children and their parents about their new playground.
“I just wanted to take a minute and thank everyone for being here tonight with us,” said Faustini. “This playground is a very special place where everyone can just be themselves. We’re all different and that’s what makes us all very special. We’re all very much the same because what do we all like to do on a playground? - Play!”
Faustini held up a finished puzzle of a puppy with a rainbow color scheme and explained that the puzzle symbolizes how everyone’s different, but everyone shares similarities.
“I just want to remind you that this is your playground,” added Faustini speaking to the children. “It’s not the Library’s playground or Recreation Department’s. It’s the children’s playground…It’s everyone’s who is here today. In order for you to take that home and remember it, I picked up a puzzle and I want each one of you to take a piece of the puzzle home with you to remind you that it’s yours.”
Mayor Matthew Anesh then had his turn to read a story. He sat at the bottom of a slide as children gathered at his feet while he read Two Little Chicks.
“We couldn’t be happier with the way the park turned out,” said Anesh. “We had a great crowd today. We always see people at this park, enjoying it, so that’s what we want. We want the park to really serve that need and I think it’s doing that. This is great.”
As the children filled the air with bubbles, Anesh cut the rainbow colored ribbon chosen to symbolize all of the children coming together with differing abilities. Council members stood at his sides along with representatives of Library Board Members, the Recreation Department and the South Plainfield Elks.
“I think the park is a really nice addition to the town,” said Danielle Stio, who is the parent of toddler twins. “I like the fact that there’s turf and the equipment’s all so new. It’s just perfect for the kids and it’s close to the library. It’s for kids of all abilities and all ages. My kids are three and they’re having a blast.”
In September 2017, Elks Lodge #2298 presented the Borough of South Plainfield with a donation to purchase several adaptive swings for children with disabilities to be installed in playgrounds throughout town. The efforts of the Elks has been expanded upon with the new playground equipment.
“One of our major charities is for special children,” said Elks Exalted Ruler Christine Sauer. “We send children to Camp Moore, we donate ramps, we help buy wheelchairs and we help pay children’s tutoring. If someone comes to us and they have need and cannot pay for extra help for their child, we’re always happy to help in any way we can.”
It was just four months ago, that the South Plainfield Library Board voted unanimously to cover the cost of the inclusive playground after Faustini was advised by Director of Recreation Kevin Hughes about the size of the space needed to accommodate the playground. She approached Darlene Cullen, then President of South Plainfield Library Board, about building the structure in Willow Park.
“A small committee got together in February of this year and met with a playground supply company,” said Ray Rusnak, Mayor’s Representative to the Library Board. “A plan and design was put together and Willow Park was determined to be the perfect location.”
Chosen because of its proximity to the Library and convenience for residents, the location of the inclusive playground was a natural choice.
“This is a great addition to this park, which has really been a revitalized park over the years,” said Anesh. “We were always looking at expanding Willow Park and it came across very quickly with the help of the library. You didn’t need to search high and low because there are so many activities around the library that it just made perfect sense.”
“I really like the fact that its located right behind the Police Department,” said Parent Rob Springfield. “I feel very safe and it’s a great playground. This town is amazing with all the activities and the things they do. It’s a real community here that you don’t find in other towns.”
“With the expansion of the library, we have been able to increase our programs and services to more aspects of the community,” said Nagel-Smiley. “Part of those programs service the special needs population. As a special needs teacher in Plainfield for 46 years, I realize how often times this population of children are overlooked unintentionally.”
The Library Board of Trustees sought advice from the New Jersey State Library, which quickly gave permission for the library to fund the inclusive equipment since the playground was next to the library. Within no time, construction was underway and the envisioned all inclusive playground became a reality.
“My kids love playgrounds and love visiting playgrounds,” said Parent Lisa Patterson. “And we’ve been watching this be built. They’re so excited to actually come and play here. They are having a blast so they’re excited. I think this is great because it builds the community. More people come to the library.”
“I think it’s fantastic that we promote more activities that are inclusive to all different types of people and different disabilities that they may have,” added Vivian Springfield. “For instance, the lollipops that they handed out tonight are peanut free, which is fantastic because both of my kids have life threatening peanut allergies so it was perfect.”
South Plainfield continues to expand its incorporation of programs and facilities to bring the community together.
“My daughter is disabled and uses a wheelchair,” said Parent Patricia Trenchak Feeney. “As I helped her pat the toy drum on the playground after the ribbon cutting, several small children came up to us asking questions about why she needed the wheelchair and had trouble standing. I was really struck by the fact that this is why the playground exists - to break down the barriers and allow children of all abilities the opportunity to meet one another, understand one another and even become friends.”
“I was involved in helping to get the Library built while on Council and this is just another piece of the puzzle to enhance the area, and the children will get many years of enjoyment going forward,” added Rusnak. “I would like to thank the Library Board of Trustees and the Recreation Commission for their support of the project.”
“I really feel that the playground belongs to each child in South Plainfield,” said Faustini. “A lot of times we cut ribbons and there are a lot of different people in the picture. But this isn’t all about all those people in the picture, it is for the children and I want the kids to know that this is for them. It is a place where they can make new friends and memories, a place where they’ll always be welcome and fit here.”
The Willow Park Inclusive Playground is located behind the South Plainfield Public Library and is open dawn until dusk, seven days a week.