Putting in the hard work so all kids can play

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Amy Rees and Jennifer Hagmeier (front) recognized a core group of individuals and organizations who helped to make possible the new all-inclusive playground at Cowling Park: (back row, from left) David Kell, executive director of Madison Future Inc.; Susan Thompson, superintendent of the Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities; London Mayor Patrick Closser; Tony Shadwick with Penchura; and Senator Robert Hackett. In turn, Closser recognized Rees and Hagmeier for their work in spearheading and organizing the project.

(Posted May 10, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The hard work of many individuals coming together for one cause has made it possible for children of all abilities to come together to play.

At the May 3 London city council meeting, Amy Rees and Jennifer Hagmeier, organizers of the Access Cowling playground project at Cowling Park, thanked a core group of people who helped to make the new playground possible. The project features equipment accessible by all children, including those with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Those recognized on May 3 included:

* Tony Shadwick, account manager with Penchura, the recreation products company that provided the equipment and design for Access Cowling.

“He didn’t just sell us a playground. He’s been a tremendous supporter every step of the way… He loves what he does and it shows,” said Rees, president of the London Community Organization, the non-profit overseeing the project.

In addition to lending expertise, Shadwick made it possible for local volunteers to help with installation of the equipment, resulting in a cost savings of $42,000.

* David Kell, executive director of Madison County Future Inc., the community development corporation (CIC) affiliated with the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Kell arranged for Access Cowling donations to go through the CIC, a 501(c)3 corporation.

“Through all the fundraising that we do and the grants that we do, knowing that David had that covered was a great comfort,” Rees said.

* Susan Thompson, superintendent of the Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities (MCBDD).

Thompson has been involved with Access Cowling since the early planning stages. At one of the first meetings, she offhandedly said MCBDD planned to donate $50,000 to the project.

“I thought I heard her wrong,” said Rees, who was expecting $5,000 from the agency. She and Hagmeier were thrilled when Thompson confirmed the larger amount. “It really legitimized the project and made other people realize this was really going to happen.”

* State Senator Bob Hackett who championed a push for state capital funding for Access Cowling.

Rees said she and Hagmeier were hoping for $90,000; they got $200,000.

“We laughed, we cried,” Rees said about their reaction to the news that came with enactment of the state capital budget bill in late March.

All totaled, Access Cowling supporters have raised a whopping $499,512.83, from “heartfelt smaller donations to large corporate donations.”

“It’s been a blessing to be part of. I can’t say that enough,” said Rees, who also thanked city council, the city administration and the parks and recreation department.

Hagmeier said the whole experience has been very personal for her family. The project started when she and her husband, Dan, approached the city two years ago with a request to install a few pieces of all-inclusive equipment at the park. The idea was to honor the memory of their infant son, Noah, who died unexpectedly in 2016. One of their older sons, Jack, has cerebral palsy. They liked the idea of making possible a place where children of all abilities could forge bonds, like Noah and Jack might have.

“When we went in, we wanted to do a memorial for our little boy,” Hagmeier said. “It has turned into not just a memorial for a little boy who died but something that is going to be of lasting benefit to my disabled son, to my able-bodied son, and to our entire community and county, and that is an amazing gift. It doesn’t make up for the loss of the life of my son, but it is something fabulous that has come out of it.”

The final phase of the Cowling Park project will be installed in late June, but the work doesn’t stop there.

“All future funds raised through Access Cowling will go toward new equipment and improvements to our parks (in London) to make them accessible and inclusive to everyone in the community,” Rees said.

Donations can be made at gofundme.com/2rjfyes or by sending a check or money order to Access Cowling, c/o Madison County Future Inc., 730 Keny Blvd., London OH 43140. Donors names will be etched into leaves on a three-dimensional tree sculpture at an information kiosk at the park.

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