Alexandria, La. (September 22, 2020) — The City of Alexandria and the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation plan to hold an opening ceremony and dedication at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, for a new special needs playground.
Construction of the Coughlin Saunders Inclusive Playground is under way at the corner of Masonic Drive and Babe Ruth Drive on part of the Bringhurst Field site. The park, which is privately funded by donors through the Cabrini Foundation and Coughlin-Saunders Foundation and being constructed by Majestic Playgrounds of Baton Rouge at no cost to the City of Alexandria, will feature swings as well as a special needs playground structure in honor of the families of the Pediatric Therapy Center at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital.
“We are very excited about this new park that will provide a safe, fun recreational playground for children with special needs,” said Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall. “There are thousands of special needs children between the ages of 5 and 18 right here in the Alexandria area, and we are pleased to be able to offer this custom playground designed to meet their very specific needs. We are very grateful to the St. Frances Cabrini Foundation, the Coughlin-Saunders Foundation and all of the private donors who provided the funding to make this a reality.”
The park is the first of its kind in Central Louisiana, with the nearest similar facility being in Lafayette.
Ashley Walker, executive director of development with the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation, notes there is significant need for a special needs playground in Central Louisiana. “Unfortunately, our community has a staggering number of special needs children all in need of these types of care,” she said. “In Rapides Parish alone there are more than 3,300 special needs children between the ages of 5 and 18. In addition, there are 582 in Avoyelles, 574 in Grant, 951 in Natchitoches, 483 in Allen and 419 in Winn Parish.”
Walker added that as one of only 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in North America, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital is the premiere center for children with physical, mental and emotional special needs in Central Louisiana. “Each month, our team sees approximately 3,600 children in need of physical, occupational and speech therapy,” Walker said. “When asked how we could best serve these families, our pediatric therapy team has consistently suggested a public special needs inclusive playground. This type of playground can provide the necessary fun, challenges, and stimulation that special needs children need to consistently grow their motor skills, ultimately decreasing the amount of time needed in therapy. Not only that, but for the first time in our community these children will be able to be included in playground fun, which will bolster self-esteem, confidence and social engagement in ways that a private therapy session cannot.”
Robert Weeks, a member of the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation Board of Directors as well as a Mayoral Assistant for the City of Alexandria, explained the city is providing the space for the project and will take ownership of the playground equipment once the project is completed. The total estimated value of the donation is $170,000.
“The city administration and the foundation have worked closely to bring this much-needed project to fruition,” Weeks said. “We have been looking for ways to better utilize the Bringhurst Field site, and this was a natural fit given that it is within walking distance of the Pediatric Therapy Center. Utilizing this location provides easy access for all of the special needs families in our community while also making it possible for the Pediatric Therapy Center to hold therapy sessions onsite as well.”
Walker said the elements included in the Coughlin Saunders Inclusive Playground layout were hand-picked by members of the pediatric therapy team to specifically cater to children with physical disabilities, autism, cognitive impairment and sensory processing disorders, which are the most prevalent special needs in the Central Louisiana area.
“This design includes physical, social-emotional, sensory, cognitive and communication components that support the development of the whole child,” Walker said. She noted the design includes slide transfer decks for wheel chair users, a sensory wave climber that caters to children with autism and sensory processing disorders, a Rock N Raft with wheel chair access, a roller slide, sensory wave seat and musical elements. There is also a swing set with multiple types of swings to cater to any and all abilities.
Lauren Guillory, LOTR, manager of the Cabrini Pediatric Therapy Center, is excited about the opening of the facility and the opportunities it will provide. “This has been a dream of mine for the past seven years or so,” she said. “And the best part is that is an inclusive playground – inclusive means it is for everyone – and my hope is that we will see everyone bringing their kids to play here, not just those with special needs. The goal is for kids with special needs to be able to play and interact with typically developing children, and right now they can’t do that at a regular playground.”
In addition to encouraging interaction between children. Guillory expects the playground will have benefits for parents as well. “I foresee this as a place where families can go and meet others facing similar situations,” she said. “Hopefully, this will be a place where the children can play and have fun and the parents meet others with similar challenges and network.”