By Nina Baratti, SNJ Today Reporter
In Camden County, a special playground was created in memory of a little boy who passed away from a rare cardiac condition.
Jake’s Place in Cherry Hill is a park that provides children and adults with or without a disability easy access to play together. Now, the non-profit organization is inching towards constructing a second “Play Place,” while a bill in the Assembly could make it mandatory for each county in the state of New Jersey to have a boundless playground of their own.
“You’ll never bring back Jake, but look at all the smiley, happy faces that we see as a memory to him,” said Lynn Cummings, grandmother of Jake Nasto, who the park was named after.
Jake was born with half a heart and, according to his grandmother, he loved doing his physical therapy at parks. Jake passed away in 2007 from hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He was only two and a half years old.
The toddler’s family decided they wanted to find a way to remember him, while helping other children with a disability.
“Even while Jake was so sick, we knew that there needed to be a playground like this, he needed a playground like this,” said Lynn.
Nasto’s family formed a non-profit, Build Jake’s Place, and began to raise money to build a special playground to allow children or adults with disabilities have a place to spend time together.
Jake's Place opened in 2011.
“Kids of every ability here can play together, have fun together, enjoy themselves, and do what kids need to do, which is have fun,” said Jim Cummings, grandfather of Jake.
The all-inclusive playground includes softer mats, easily accessible rides, and even ramps that fit not one, but two wheelchairs side by side to allow every single child to experience playtime.
“It’s very exciting to see and to know that a wheelchair doesn’t mean anything to other children, and they just play like everybody else,” said Arthur Aston, the executive director of Build Jake’s Place. “I wasn’t expected to live past the age of 15 and I turned 35 in November.”
Aston, the organization’s executive director was born with spina bifada.
As he continues to spread awareness in his community about disabilities, Build Jake’s Place is getting ready to open a South Jersey-themed playground in Delran, Burlington County, and hopefully, many more.
“There should be an all-inclusive playground in every county, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Jake’s Law,” said Jake’s father, Joseph Nasto.
Jake’s Law has been introduced in New Jersey’s legislation, which would ensure every county that receives money from the state's Green Acres Program to have to build at least one playground that’s all access.
“Playing is a kid’s job, and we just want to make a kid’s job easier,” said Jim.
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