The new accessible South Jersey Field of Dreams playground at Hackett Park within the Jonathan Pitney Recreation Complex in Absecon, New Jersey, is a dream come true for hundreds of hard-working volunteers, family members, and special needs athletes.
Created in 2003, the South Jersey Field of Dreams (SJFOD) baseball league currently has 14 teams and 250 players who come from six different counties and 33 cities in the southern third of the state. “Our league gives children who have an IDD [intellectual or developmental disability] a chance to interact with each other and raise awareness among their peers and our volunteers,” explains Larry McCarty, Director of Volunteers. The SJFOD founders were instrumental in bringing the first Special Olympics competition to Atlantic Community College Mays Landing in the early 1970s.
Since 2003, the SJFOD organization realized that siblings who attended the baseball games had nowhere to play. The new dream of an all-accessible playground was born. The SJFOD team researched other facilities, then formed a partnership with AmeriHealth Caritas to make the boundless playground a reality.
“The AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership’s mission is to empower communities and encourage healthy lifestyles,” explains Steve Sendzik, playground consultant for the Partnership.
Steve is tasked with identifying communities in need of playgrounds. He organizes and facilitates community-build playgrounds in under served neighborhoods across the country.
Typically, AmeriHealth provides a significant portion of the funds and its employees help build the playgrounds.
Along with the efforts of Andy Cush and Michael Wiley from Gen Rec, the completed playground went well beyond everyone’s expectations.
“This was our first accessible playground project,” says Steve. “It was really eye-opening for me, as well as our employee volunteers to see and understand the challenges that children with IDD go through in order to have an enjoyable sports and playground experience.”
“Andy, Michael, and their team have excellent experience, knowledge, and most importantly, I appreciate their familiarity and flexibility in managing community-build projects. We have a system and so do they – and together we were able to work together really well,” he adds.
“Because of the success and quality of the build,” adds Larry, “The SJFOD group immediately wanted to add accessible swings for Phase II of the playground.”
Michael set everything in motion. Within another month, the playground had six new swings. “The facility is now first-class thanks to AmeriHealth Caritas, Steve, and Gen Rec’s Michael and Andy,” says Larry. “Anyone thinking of such a project in their hometown are encouraged to come see our boundless field and playground of dreams. It’s definitely a grand-slam facility!”
Learn more about our other playground projects.