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By Malissa Kenney, Associate Director

In December, 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which proclaims:

“THIS DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD to the end that he/she may have a happy childhood and enjoy for his/her own good and for the good of society the rights and freedoms herein set forth, and calls upon parents, upon men and women as individuals, and upon voluntary organizations, local authorities and national Governments to recognize these rights and strive for their observance by legislative and other measures progressively taken in accordance with the following principles…”

Principle 7 states “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities, shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

Marie ARticle photo resizeLast year Marie Saldi, a self-advocate and insightful young woman who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for mobility, shared her childhood stories of going to local playgrounds with her family but never being able to fully participate because of accessibility issues. Our local playgrounds have terrains difficult if not impossible to manage for those with disabilities and lack specialized equipment and developmental stimuli for children with special needs.

With Marie as our inspiration and our belief that children of all abilities have the right to play together, The Arc decided to raise funds sufficient to donate a specialized swing to the Town of Plymouth. A private donation was secured but in our research we discovered that the closest fully accessible and integrated playground is in Barnstable. Luke’s Love a beautiful and dynamic play space and central meeting place for kids and parents of all abilities, became our model and so our quest to provide one piece of equipment has morphed to developing an all-inclusive playground with and for the town, but for people from all surrounding towns to enjoy as well.

Roger Monty, The Arc of Greater Plymouth’s Executive Director, and Malissa Kenney, the agency’s Associate Director, were invited to present a request for a playground — preferably to be located at Stephen’s Field on the waterfront — to the Town Board of Selectmen in March. Since that time we have met and presented the need to the Town Disability Council and the Friends of Stephen’s Field Committee, regularly attending their neighborhood planning meetings. We have shared our vision with the landscape design company hired by the town and have participated along with the members of the committee in creating what will hopefully become a fully accessible multiuse park and playground/play structure. The current blueprint design scheduled for presentation to the Town Selectmen in December is nothing short of magnificent including a softball field, tennis and basketball courts, a boat and kayak launch, gardens, an entertainment pavilion and expanded playground area. Assuming approvals and funding are secured the project is slated for Spring 2016.

The response has been positive and much work is still needed. We are committed to assisting with fundraising and grant writing and have made contact with companies who specialize in these types of projects.

Our dedication extended to our agency annual fundraiser which was held in April. The Ronan Tynan and Plymouth Philharmonic Concert provided an opportunity to reach out to the community and the nearly 800 attendees, discussing our agency and the playground project. A portion of the proceeds raised were donated to the playground. At this point we have raised nearly $10,000.00 with plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from our 2015 fundraiser.

As for our inspiration, Marie, in June she applied for and was selected as the Mass Developmental Disabilities Council’s Barbara Wilensky-Gopen Fellow for FY15. She has chosen as her fellowship project a grassroots advocacy campaign to educate town planners, legislators, recreation directors and communities statewide about the need for and benefits of accessible and integrated playgrounds and specialized play structures. She has spent the past few months visiting and testing playgrounds advertised as accessible throughout Massachusetts and recently completed a very informative power point program. Her next step is to design a brochure and then finally to canvas communities and present her program and findings to legislators at the State House and beyond!

Marie was recently accepted for the 9 week Self Advocacy Leadership Series sponsored by the DD Council and Mass Advocates Standing Strong and will be attending the Arc of Mass Legislative Advocacy Conference in January.

We are truly excited, not only about the potential of a fabulous play space for all, but for the education we have been able to provide to the community leaders, residents and supporters so that they may consider people with disabilities in all of their future development projects. Through our advocacy, the landscape architectural group is including accessibility throughout the park so that navigation between parking lots, sports venues, and waterfront boat ramp and entertainment areas will be possible for everyone.

Learn More About Marie Saldi…

You may follow the development of this project and learn how to get involved by visiting our website , Facebook page or Twitter @arc_gp