SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield Elks Lodge #2298 presented the Borough of South Plainfield with a check for $1,749 on September 18th at the Borough Council meeting. The donation is for the purchase of three adaptive swings for children with disabilities to be installed in playgrounds throughout South Plainfield. The adaptive swings are expected to be placed in Cotton Street Park, ShadySide Park and Ponytail Park within the next month.
Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler Janice Campos and Special Children’s Committee member Suzanne Purcell presented the check to eight-year-old Grace Anne Farrell, who first brought the need for adaptive equipment for disabled children on South Plainfield playgrounds to the attention of Councilwoman Christine Faustini. Faustini was instrumental in having an adaptive swing installed at Willow Park behind the South Plainfield Library, along with the guidance of the Recreation Department, the support of Mayor Matthew Anesh and the generosity of the Library Board, who donated the adaptive swing.
Moved by Grace Anne’s concern for her disabled peer, the Elks decided to help as well.
“Mr. Buckelew from the Elks Lodge #2298 reached out to myself, Council President White and our Recreation Director Kevin Hughes to inquire about the cost, feasibility and interest of the town in adding adaptive swings at other locations around South Plainfield,” said Faustini explaining how the donation came about. “Happily the request was approved.”
“We were very inspired by your compassion for your friend who was unable, because of her disability, to utilize the playground equipment at the schools,” said Campos to Grace Anne at Monday’s meeting before the panel of Council members. “So on behalf of the Special Children’s Committee of the South Plainfield Lodge #2298, we would like to make a donation for $1,749 for the purchase of three adaptive swings.”
With hugs from the Elks’ representatives and applause from the crowd, Grace Anne accepted the check on the behalf of the Borough of South Plainfield. Mayor Matt Anesh then asked Grace Anne if she would like to address everyone at the Council meeting.
Offering Grace Anne his seat, she took her place at the helm of City Council saying into the microphone, “I believe every single kid should have something to play with on the playground with no matter handicap or not.”
“I want to thank the Elks and Grace Anne again,” said Councilwoman Christine Faustini as she addressed the Borough Council and audience. “Since her mom and grandpa are here, I’ll thank both of you for raising such a lovely young lady who is so caring.”
“The addition of these swings means a lot to me as well,” added Faustini after the meeting. “As a mom and a teacher I understand that playing with your peers is very important to each child’s social and emotional well being. Play is also largely tied to many areas of cognitive and motor development. It is important that each child has access to the same play areas and equipment as their peers regardless of their gifts and needs.”
Grace Anne first approached Councilwoman Faustini with her mother at the South Plainfield Christmas in July event over the summer. Grace Anne, whose friend was not able to play on the equipment due to a disability, asked the Councilwoman why there was no place for handicapped children at South Plainfield parks. Within months, Grace Anne’s dream of all children having a place to play no matter what their abilities had begun to come to fruition with the installation of an adaptive swing at Willow Park. With the donation from the Elks Lodge, Grace Anne’s request is growing to include more and more South Plainfield parks.
“The additional adaptive swings are already on order,” added Faustini. “Thank you to our Recreation Department and Recreation Commission for their support and quick action moving this forward. It is the intention to have the new swings installed while the weather is still nice so they get as much use as possible prior to winter. The plan is for the swings to be located throughout the town so that a resident who would like to use them would not have to stray too far from home.”
Established over fifty years ago, the South Plainfield Elks Lodge has made it their mission to help the South Plainfield community.
“As Elks, we strive to have a positive impact on our communities,” said Campos expounding on their commitment to South Plainfield residents. “We extend support to many areas who are in need of financial help, services and volunteers. The disabled in our community are just one of the many groups we are here for. Elks Lodges are places where neighbors come together, families share meals, and children grow up. Elks invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, meet the needs of today’s veterans, and improve the quality of life.”
“I really believe that South Plainfield's greatest asset is our residents,” Faustini later added. “Children are an extremely valuable resource for ideas, sometimes all we need to do is listen. I am honored that I was able to play a role in moving this initiative forward in our community. I hope this has opened the door to exploring additional opportunities like this for the town.”
“The Lodge and our Special Children’s Committee felt Grace Anne showed a selfless, compassionate characteristic that people five times her age struggle with,” Campos said later reflecting on Grace Anne’s actions. “With all the craziness in the world, it is refreshing to see something wonderful happen right in our own town. She is a true role model for both young and old and we should all strive to follow her example.”