As the fundraising efforts continue for an all-inclusive playground to be built at the Delran Community Park off Hartford Road, Jake's Place has inspired state legislation for similar projects across New Jersey.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and state Sen. James Beach have sponsored a bill to ensure every county has a playground that any child, including those with disabilities, can play on. Both Democrats represent the 6th District and live in Voorhees.
The proposed legislation, advanced Monday by the Assembly's Women and Children’s Committee, would clear the way for state funds to be used to assist in paying for these projects.
"This law will be a giant step forward for people of every ability," said Arthur Aston, executive director of Build Jake’s Place. "By encouraging Green Acres funding for all-inclusive playgrounds, more communities and more families can enjoy the obvious benefits of accommodating all New Jersey residents."
Created in 2007, Build Jake's Place helps construct and operate playgrounds for children of varied abilities. Inspired by 2-year-old Jacob Nasto, who died of complications from a heart defect, his family chose to honor his memory with a specially designed playground in Cherry Hill based on the belief that every child deserves a chance to play, regardless of physical challenges.
In 2014, the organization found Delran Community Park to be an ideal location for another Build Jake's Place playground because of the Americans With Disabilities Act-approved synthetic turf and "Buddy Ball" field that give those with physical or developmental disabilities a chance to compete.
But before construction of the playground can kick off, a lot of money needs to be raised.
"The playground is going to cost upwards of $700,000, and that's with a community build," said Debra Gordon-Leonard, board secretary for the nonprofit organization.
In the last couple of weeks, the organization has been talking to students in town to encourage them to join the fundraising efforts, including one on July 19 at the Cinnaminson Rita's Water Ice and the Jake's Run4Play 5K run and 1-mile walk at Delran High School on Oct. 2.
Prior to joining the organization several years ago, Gordon-Leonard said she never imagined how many are not able to enjoy a playground.
Children and adults with disabilities find obstacles with the ground-up rubber fill or wood chips that are used in many playgrounds.
"Wheelchairs can't move on that and crutches have a hard time moving on it, and that's just the start of it," Gordon-Leonard said. "The child in a wheelchair cannot go to the playground, cannot go to the top of the climbing apparatus because there are no ramps."
That's not the case at Jake's Place.
"A child who is challenged or even if a (parent) was injured in some way, they can play not only with the other kids normally, but parents can play with their kids in a way they were never able to do so before, because of the challenges they have to face," Gordon-Leonard said.
For more information about fundraisers and sponsorship opportunities for Jake's Place, visit buildjakesplace.org.
Written by Todd McHale, staff writer - Burlington County Times