A pair of Canadian parents is raising money to build an accessible playground in memory of their late son, who had physical disabilities.
In 2002, Jason and Jacquelyn Chenier welcomed a son named Sacha, who suffered from blindness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and cognitive delays due to a lack of oxygen at birth. Growing up, Sacha was unable to see, speak, walk or eat without special assistance, but in spite of these challenges, he always maintained a positive attitude.
"He was the happiest person we knew," the Cheniers told The Huffington Post. "He was rarely distressed and was often delighted by the smallest of life's pleasures. The warm breeze on his face, the ring of a bell, and especially the sounds of his brother playing with other children would cause fits of laughter; it was one of the best sounds we had ever heard."
Still, going to the playground with Sacha posed some serious challenges, as his wheelchair would often get stuck in the layer of sand around the play structures, and Sacha was unable to play with most of the equipment. Thus, the little boy was often stuck sitting in his wheelchair on the sidelines, while his brother Sebastien played.
During a 2010 Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World, however, Sacha had the opportunity to play at a more accessible playground at the "Give Kids The World Village” near Orlando. "For the first time in his life, Sacha and his brother were able to enjoy the playground together," the Cheniers recalled.
"Watching Sacha giggle as his brother, Sebastien, pushed him on the swing was the highlight of our trip," the parents said. "It was really wonderful to watch them both connect in such a basic carefree way... It was 15 minutes of what most people take for granted and it is one of our most treasured memories."
"Sadly, this was the only time, in Sacha's short 11-year life, that he ever got to know the joy of going for a ride on a swing," they continued. "This is something that made us really sad, because every child should know the joy of playing with other kids at the playground."
After Sacha passed away in June 2014, the Cheniers decided to build a park in their Ontario community where kids of all abilities could play together. They're raising money through community events like a garage sale, golf tournament, barbecue, and Zumba-thon, as well as a GoFundMe page which has already generated over $143,000 toward their goal of $500,000. "Sacha's Park" is also currently under consideration for a grant of up to $100,000 from the Aviva Community Fund.
The Cheniers told HuffPost that their vision for the park involves rubberized surfacing that wheelchairs and walkers can "glide over smoothly" and equipment located on the ground "so that one can access it from whatever direction they choose." The playground will include adaptive swings, sensory-stimulating and interactive play stations and splash areas.
"What we hope to create, with Sacha's Park, is a place where every child, regardless of their ability, will find equipment that they can use," the parents said.
In addition to helping kids with physical or cognitive impairments play, the Cheniers hope their park can allow parents, grandparents and other caretakers with disabilities accompany the children, which may not be feasible at other conventional playgrounds.
"A park like the kind we want to build is a place where everyone can play together; a place where we can give these families back a little of the childhood that got taken away. It is a place for people to laugh, have fun and feel included no matter the differences we all have."
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