A playground under construction in Salinas is a first for the Monterey Bay Area. It’s a place where all children, even those with special needs, can play side by side.
Amanda Bakker makes her way through a sea of volunteers: teens with shovels digging post holes, experienced construction workers piecing together wood and moms gently laying mosaic tile on a wall. They’re all here working on the vision Bakker and her husband Shawn had about a year ago to build a fully inclusive playground where their two-year-old daughter Tatum could play with her brother and sister. Tatum was born with Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair. “You know you have a plan and a vision and an idea, and when you start seeing it come together it’s just this amazing, overwhelming sense of pride in our community,” said Amanda looking at the 200 or so volunteers who showed up to help on Wednesday.
Over the past few months, the community has rallied around this project. The City of Salinas offered up this parking lot at Sherwood Park for the location, and community members and businesses have raised more than $700,000 of the million dollars needed to complete the project. Less than a week into construction, the vegetable themed playground called Tatum’s Garden is quickly taking shape. It includes things like carrot monkey bars, lettuce bridges and celery slides. “You can see the broccoli tree house is really growing. It’s three stories high,” said Amanda pointing to a tall structure in the middle of the playground site.
Unlike a traditional playground that might have stairs or a ladder to get to the top of a tree house, here workers are building ramps all the way up. In fact, every structure in the park will be accessible by ramp and the entire playground will be covered in a wheelchair friendly, rubber surface. That’s a game changer for kids like Tatum. Her grandmother Julie Given takes a break from routing the edges on a piece of wood to explain. “We’ve taken her to parks, there’s no doubt, and it takes a team effort to take her to a park where there’s sand and wood chips because she can’t walk and she’s in a wheelchair, so someone has to carry her,” said Given.
Being fully-inclusive means accommodating kids with all kinds of disabilities, from those who can’t hear or see to those with Autism. MJ Viglizzo is with Salinas Circle for Children, the non-profit raises money for children with disabilities and provided the seed money for Tatum’s Garden. She says a real important part of this project is creating a space where children of all abilities can play side by side. “It’s going to be a lesson of acceptance. Accepting who that child with disabilities is and realizing that their minds work the same and that they have some of the same desires and wishes,” said Viglizzo
All-inclusive playgrounds can be all about removing labels. Marc Leathers owns Leathers and Associates. His east coast based firm designed Tatum’s Garden and others like it across the country. “It’s great to be all inclusive, but in a funny way, I don’t want the label on it at all. I want everybody to show up, go play and nobody really talks about it. It just works. So if you leave the kids alone and let them do their thing, you’ll see it out there without having to know it’s an all-inclusive playground,” said Leathers.
Over near the toddler section of the park, Amanda Bakker kneels on a piece a cardboard, and starts placing tiles on one of the playground’s mosaic murals. She says, she’s looking forward to that time when she can just watch her three kids and others play side by side. “I long for the day when I can just sit on a bench and soak it in and hear laughter and watch kids play and realize that you feel like you did something good,” said Bakker. Community construction on Tatum’s Garden continues through Sunday. Volunteers and donations are still needed. The park should be open to the public in mid to late October.