Seymour church works to build inclusive playground
By Rick Cohler
SEYMOUR – If all goes according to plan, all children in Seymour regardless of their abilities will have a brand new inclusive park and playground by this fall.
The state-of-the-art facility will be on a site adjacent to Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Main Street but its story goes back a number of years according to church member Barry Kailhofer.
“We as a church really believe the Holy Spirit moved us into this,” Kailhofer explained. “There was a young gentleman who ended up living with his grandpa in a house on a lot where this is situated. The young man had some problems and he spent a lot of time here; he’d come over and our custodian would give him things to do. When his grandfather died and the house had to be sold, we had a family that gave us the money to purchase the residence and their only request was that we do something with it to help people with special needs.”
Kailhofer is the retired owner of Kailhofer’s Greenhouse and Flowers in Seymour, so he figured he could supply the greenery, but then discovered an inclusive playground needed different things.
“We ended up talking about people who have different needs; whether they were in a wheelchair, were autistic and I was really moved by that first meeting. Not only did we have people who were willing to work on it but we had people coming in and telling their stories about how hard it is when they go to parks but there is no way for their children to play on the equipment,” he added.
Other strong support came from Alyce Dahlin of Nichols.
She and her late husband, Bernard, were the owners of Nichols Paper Printing and Converting Solutions, providing personal and company gifts to the project.
Another Emmanuel member, Mary Brown, said it was good to hear people’s stories.
“What struck me was the sense of isolation that many of these people have,” Brown said. “They can’t take their kids to a park or to a movie – just the things that most families take for granted. Along with the park we want to develop some programming for their families and supply some supportive connections so they can meet with each other. A young mother talked about her isolation and said, ‘I would just love to be able to come to a fenced park.’ The fence was the biggest thing for many of the families so they could sit on a bench and watch their child play without worry and maybe converse with other parents who have the same struggles.
“We wanted the park to be open to the entire community and we wanted to collaboratively plan it with the families giving us advice.”
Brown said they consulted recreation experts, read a lot of literature and talked about it in devising the plans.
At first, restrooms were thought to be too large of an expense but families told them otherwise.
One parent told them if toileting was an issue, people would not use it. Plans were then revised.
“We did a total turn-a-round and said if we’re going to stay true to our vision and meet the needs of these families an accessible restroom, changing table and an open-air pavilion is a must,” Brown said.
“From there we had three goals: build a park with inclusive equipment, create ministries that would provide activities for kids built around movement, socialization and connecting people.”
Emmanuel Pastor Ty Stoneburner added that two pieces of equipment are designed for older residents.
“We were hearing from people who are caregiving people who are on the other end of the spectrum,” Stoneburner said. “They were finding the same feeling of isolation, so we reached out to Good Shepherd Services to see how the park might help with enrichment for the residents there.”
The Emmanuel Lutheran congregation was quick to get behind the project.
Kailhofer said the church council decided to give a large interest-free loan to the project.
“The neat thing is I remember standing up at a council meeting and telling them it could be several years to accomplish the project,” he recalled. “I am so happy I was so wrong! In December we signed a contract with Lee Recreation of Cambridge.
“We’ll be having a meeting and Sandy, our secretary, will come in and say ‘I just got a check for $3,000.’ It’s helping us to know we’re on the right track,” he said.
As for the congregation as a whole, Pastor Stoneburner said it is exciting because it has opened an opportunity to have honest conversations.
“We have learned together,” he said. “It’s been a good opportunity to hear lots of connecting stories and it’s given a lot of people an opportunity to support this and to serve.”
Other members of the Executive Council include: Brian Maas, Sandy Sachs, Lynette Stoneburner, Tanya Noll and Vern Ossmann.
For more information, visit seymourfaith.org/inclusive park or Emmanuel Lutheran Church Seymour on Facebook.