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A goal for the future- – – Inclusion Park for all Carroll County children in planning stage

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DISCUSSING PLANS – From left, Wendy Jones, Krystal Tippitt and Lori Dillahunty, board members for Friends of the City Park All Inclusive Project, discuss the park that is in the planning and fundraising stage. It will be designed to give children of all intellectual, developmental and physical abilities a place to play. It will be built in Huntingdon.

Can you think back and remember how it felt to play with your peers on the playground? The wind whipping your hair as you whizzed down the slide surrounded by your friends.

Lori Dillahunty has a dream and passion for seeing that Carroll County  develops a playground with all children of all ages and abilities in mind.

Several others have joined this Huntingdon mother of six in her quest for an inclusion park in Huntingdon. A board has been established for Friends of the City Park All Inclusive Project. Their focus is to educate the public while researching and raising funds for inclusive equipment.

This type park is designed to give kids of all intellectual, developmental and physical abilities a place to play.

These are experiences that maybe a family has never shared with their child. It’s this group’s strong belief that every child should have an opportunity to play and play safety and play with friends.

Allison Williams, one of the eight board members and the education chair, is especially interested in this project.

In 2017 she and her husband, Justin, adopted a six and half-year old child, Evie, from China. Evie struggled with coordination, balance and sensory processing dysfunction due to autism as well as a lack of stimuli. At that time Evie was able to sit in a baby seat to swing at a Huntingdon park. She quickly outgrew such a swing, but like many children with similar conditions, she didn’t possess the core strength to move on to a typical swing you find at most parks.

Recently, her mother took her to an inclusive park in Union City that she recalls as “one of the best days of her child’s life.”

 “Her laugh was contagious that day,” said Allison. “She was so excited to be included.”

The experience was not only a transformative one for Evie, but Allison as well.

“This park had modified equipment for her needs,” she said. “She could play among her siblings and peers without her dignity being  disregarded.”

Educating students on project

Allison has taken what she has learned from her experience and uses that knowledge to go into different schools to educate students and give examples of the park equipment that would allow all children to play together.

“We are committed to helping bring in a playground to our town for all of Carroll County and visitors to enjoy,” said Allison. “The goal of our project is inclusive play, bringing out everyone’s strengths, and learning from one another.”

The schools are being involved also. All primary and middle schools in Carroll County are competing in a logo contest. One winner from each school in a school district will be selected, with the grand winner receiving $50. The plan is to place the logo at the new playground.

Three members of the board recently discussed the project that they plan to be a part of until its completion.

Dillahunty, who chairs the board, Wendy Jones, fundraising chair, and social chair Krystal Tippitt say they want it understood that it is for all the children of the county and public feedback is important to them.

“We need to make it accessible to all children,” said Krystal. “Our duty is to provide for all kids in all of Carroll County.”

Town of Huntingdon offering help

The town of Huntingdon has offered to work with the group to place the playground in the most cost-efficient park within the town. The group is currently listening to public feedback and working to finalize a design. Parks similar to this one usually range anywhere from $300,000 to $550,000. The Board realizes they have a lot of hard work ahead of them, such as applying fro grants and looking for sponsorship from Carroll County businesses.

They have currently raised nearly $24,000 from several small fundraisers used to draw awareness to the project. The latest one, a cake auction of ten cakes, made by students from the culinary arts class at the Carroll County Technical Center, raised $1,175.

All three say Public Works director Randy Crossett and town recorder Kim Carter are all for the project and have helped with applying for a 100 percent Blue Cross Blue Shield grant for the project.

Board members envision park

Several board members have visited inclusion parks, not only in Tennessee, but outside the state as well. Through this experience, they have gained ideas and a perception of what they would like for the Huntingdon Park.

Also they envision a sensory focused park where children learn about each other’s abilities. The park would consist of educational tools such as the ASL alphabet and Braille.

In addition to the board members previously mentioned, the board consists of  vice chair Jennifer Johnson, secretary Nikki Cunningham, treasurer Jennie Smith and head grant writer Connie Bond. With the assistance of an attorney at Law Ashby School in Jackson, the state charter is being applied for.

Friends of the Park is partnering with Play 4 All, an extension of Cunningham Recreation, a service that helps communities secure the resources necessary to build play spaces for everyone to enjoy. They will assist with design, budget and project timeline, according to Lori.

“We have big dreams for what this project will turn into” she said.

Friends of the Park meets six times a year. They plan to meet at the park pavilion at Sesquicentennial Park in the summer and the County Office Complex in the winter.

Lori, Wendy and Krystal encourage anyone interested in the project to join the Friends Group and to follow the journey on Facebook at Friends of the Huntingdon City Park Inclusion Project.

Public’s help invited

The three say people interested in the project are invited to join their group.

“The group believes that everyone benefits when children can all play together,” said Wendy, who coordinated the recent cake auction fundraiser.

They are doing all they can to make sure a playground will be created with all children of all ages and abilities in mind. A universally designed, sensory-rich environment that enables all children to develop physically, socially and emotionally. It should be an engaging place that provides the just right level of challenge and offers opportunities to succeed.

“This is why we are working hard toward an inclusion playground for Carroll County and visitors,” said Lori. “If one child uses it, it’s worth it all.”

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