Milestones’ Universal Playground Project
“Playing to learn as you learn to play” is Jenny Morgan’s credo as she reflects on the past few years of fundraising and creating an all-accessible playground in her rural, close-knit community of Warfordsburg, PA. The effort, generosity and prayers of an entire community came to fruition on November 6, 2021 with the playground’s ribbon-cutting.
By day, Jenny is a school-based occupational therapist. She works with children who have developmental disabilities, rotating through schools in her district. Jenny helps students develop self-help and play skills. After-hours, little did she know she’d transfer her skills into running a non-profit organization that provides resources and opportunities for young children, youth, adults and seniors.
Her playground idea came about in 2015 while taking a grant-writing class. One of her assignments was to envision a community-based program or project that she wished to pursue in the future.
“I thought about the needs I saw in our rural area – and started with my own experience,” explains Jenny. “Our schools are far apart and have small populations. At our playgrounds, I observed how students played, and began to notice children with disabilities that couldn’t even access the equipment. This saddened me. While other kids were easily playing with each other, others were on the sidelines.”
When it struck her that there was no universal play equipment, her playground project was decided. What Jenny didn’t realize at first was that a small mustard seed of an idea would grow into the “destination” playground it is today.
In the spirit of “how,” Jenny started to think through the actions that would be necessary to develop an inclusive playground in her community. What steps would be needed? First, she found a potential location on land owned by the local Lions Club. In 2017, her husband, Rich, helped her create a non-profit entity, Milestones Wellness Outreach, so that she could apply for grants.
When applying for the PA Department of Community & Economic Development grant, Jenny included nearly 40 handwritten letters and drawings from children supporting the project.
“We know that these letters touched the grant reviewers hearts…because they touched ours,” says Jenny. This idea came about not only to make the grant application more personable, but because there was a need for fun, effective projects for students at home doing virtual classes. Kids wrote about why they wanted a playground and what they envisioned for it.
Through a variety of grants, word-of-mouth (and even unsolicited!) donations, along with progress shared through a very active Facebook page, the playground came to life!
Earlier in the process, through a Google search for inclusive play equipment, Jenny found Landscape Structures and General Recreation playground consultant, Steve Hemler.
Steve enjoyed working with Jenny, “who was inspiring. She created a destination playground that would impress any size community! Jenny leads by heart and I have the utmost respect for her vision. She’s truly capable of achieving milestones.”
Steve developed a design where children with special needs could play safely alongside family and friends, with a mixture of all-accessible play equipment from Landscape Structures and Rhapsody Outdoor Musical Instruments.
The playground is dedicated to people who found strength and perseverance in the midst of great obstacles. “We want this playground to reflect the face of our community,” explains Jenny. Unique touches include memory plaques on benches for loved ones. The walkway to the entrance of the playground has bricks engraved with the name of each child who wrote a support letter, along with a special trait or quality about them.
Since opening in November 2021, the playground has been busy! It fills a variety of needs, including being a regional community playground open throughout the week for all families. Plus, the location is convenient to a tri-state interstate junction, making it easy for traveling families to visit.
“On opening day, I remember sitting on a bench, observing children of all abilities playing on the playground. It was surreal. I felt joy and relief,” recalls Jenny.
She hopes to encourage people who have dreams. “There’s always a way. If you have a dream, keep going. My faith in Jesus provided me with encouragement and persistence. Through this process, He taught me patience.”
Jenny also adds, “I hope this story can inspire others to take action. You can do this with will power. And, you can do this even in a rural area with limited resources.”
To learn more about creating an all-accessible playground for your community, contact your local General Recreation Playground Consultant at 800-726-4793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.