WAYNE, NJ – Temperatures were in the 90s and humidity hung in the still summer air, but this did not stop a crowd of VIPs from gathering outside to celebrate the official opening of Wayne’s first all-inclusive playground on Thursday afternoon.
Wayne’s newest playground is located on Greenrale Avenue, tucked in amongst the trees in Rabbi Shai Shacknai Park. Colorful tubes, ramps, slides and swings that are appropriate for children of all abilities are arranged within a beautifully landscaped enclosed area.
The playground was the brainchild of Wayne resident Beth Marmolejos who asked Mayor Chris Vergano last year simply to add inclusive equipment to any existing playground. She never expected an entire new park to be built.
The group of sixty or so people at the playground that afternoon were made up of several children of varying abilities, parents and local dignitaries such as New Jersey State Senator Kristen Corrado, Passaic County Director of the Board of Chosen Freeholders Sandi Lazzara, Freeholder Bruce James, Wayne Town Council President Joe Scuralli, Town Council members Fran Ritter and Jon Ettman, as well as former Town Council member Aileen Rivera.
The event began with Mayor Chris Vergano addressing the crowd, thanking everyone for coming and saying: “I am proud to have played a part in the creation of this amazing place where children of all abilities can come and have fun.” He added: “This may have been the best thing that Wayne has ever done.”
Marmolejos came to the podium and told the story of how she asked the Mayor for a retrofit of a current park. Her voice filled with emotion as she said: “I never dreamed of a playground like this. It’s going to allow our children to understand diversity because it is an inclusive park where everyone can come and play along with children in wheelchairs, for example, and understand people’s differences.”
The dignitaries lined up for the official ribbon-cutting with Mayor Vergano holding the giant scissors. After dozens of cell phone cameras captured pictures, the ribbon was cut, the crowd broke into applause and the all-inclusive playground was officially open.
Children in attendance scattered to begin playing while the adults began to chat, or stopped at the Nothing Bundt Cakes table for free tasty bundtlets provided by owner Funke Olayinka.
Freeholder Director Lazzara told TAPintoWayne that this was the second all-inclusive playground ribbon-cutting that she attended that day. A new sensory playground for children with special needs was opened at Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne. “We need to include every child and every family into these parks and let them play and have a great time,” Lazzara said. “I can’t wait to bring my grandson here!”
Along the perimeter of the playground were bright red benches, each with a plaque honoring someone special. Victoria and Daniel Cupo stood near the bench dedicated to their son, Daniel Victor Cupo who passed away last year.
“He loved balloons and balls,” said the father gesturing to the bench that was filled with bright yellow balls each decorated with fun emoji faces.
Victoria said of the playground: “It’s a beautiful place, and we’re very happy. Daniel would have loved the park and will always be here in spirit.”
The playground was surrounded by a beautiful landscape provided as a donation by Canete Landscaping. Owner Tom Canete was on hand with his special needs son Jake and his wife Darlene. "I'll do anything for the town," Tom said. "Especially for special needs kids. It hits my heart and I'm very proud to be a part of this."
Former Wayne Council Member Aileen Rivera said: “As a mother of a son with special needs, I know first-hand how important it is that the needs of all of our children are met and that they are all able to enjoy what life has to offer. Every child will be able to enjoy this wonderful, inclusive park. This is a no judgement zone where children can play, laugh and, have fun together."
The park was funded by both Wayne Township and Passaic County Open Space Funds.