By Celia Shatzman
Liz Bullard, 49
Cause: Seattle Children's PlayGarden
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Family: daughters Claire, 23, and Hannah, 20; son, Sean, 16
A few kids dig in a garden while others play on the swings and seesaws. But this isn't a typical park—it's designed for kids with physical or mental disabilities, though all are welcome. "When you enter the Seattle Children's PlayGarden (SCPG) it doesn't matter if you come in on your own two feet, in a wheelchair, or with a dog," says founder Liz Bullard.
Liz had been working as a speech therapist with children with special needs for 20 years when she came across an article in February 2002 about a play garden in New York City that was inclusive of all kids. Liz wanted to create a similar one in Seattle, so she spent the next six months doing research, held an official meeting that September, and set up the nonprofit. Soon after, she approached the Parks & Recreation Department, which agreed to give SCPG a no-cost lease. With neighborhood support—and funds from private foundations, corporate sponsors, and individuals—Liz and the other volunteers cleaned up a preexisting park and planted a vegetable garden.
SCPG opened in 2004, and since then developments have been phased in, including a new building with a chicken coop, rabbit hutch, kitchen, and playroom. Liz has carefully selected play equipment: The swings and seesaws have an extra-high back so people with poor muscle development can use them, and the rock climb has a wheelchair route.
"This isn't a park where you just play," Liz says. "In the garden, it's physically demanding to dig holes, but it improves motor skills. Kids work together side by side to build something, which helps them get past their differences." SCPG offers a summer camp and free events like festivals, arts and science activities, kite- making, and cooking with the garden's veggies.
Liz hopes SCPG inspires other communities. "It's great to see the relief on parents' faces when they watch their kids not only being accepted for who they are," she says, "but also having a great time in the process."
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Originally published in the November 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.