A Multi-Sensory Playground for Fort Scott

“Build a new playground at the Mercy of Frank Halsey”

Presented by The Healthy Bourbon County Action Team

Underwritten by Janet Irby Braun and Family

The Healthy Bourbon County Action Team, as part of Fort Scott Community Visioning, is sponsoring a community event on Saturday, August 19, at Liberty Theatre to honor local community champion, Frank Halsey, for his grass roots initiative to build mountain biking and hiking trails.  While not alone in his efforts, his leadership demonstrates how one person can be an agent of change, engage community members, and increase awareness of healthy lifestyle. Environmental challenges tend to be strongest in low-income communities and community perception results show that Bourbon County is no different.

In addition, the Healthy Bourbon County Action Team has partnered with the Youth Activities Team to seek additional resources and construct a Multi-Sensory Playground that will be accessible by all youth, regardless of ability, and meet therapeutic needs for children with special needs. The children and families in our community could benefit from safe, inclusive, places to play. An inclusive recreation area is desperately needed in the Fort Scott area.

Currently we have families in our community who are forced to drive 45 miles to the nearest adaptive park. One of many families personally impacted is that of Matt and Cherie Witt, the parents of a 6-year-old son with autism spectrum disorder with significant sensory needs. They have shared their story:

We want to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves and explain why we believe an all-inclusive playground with adaptations for children with special needs would provide a much-needed asset to our community. Prior to the birth of our child and his subsequent diagnosis, we were not unsympathetic, but, nevertheless, highly uninformed of the vast number of children with special needs in our community and the lack of resources available to them. In the four years since our diagnosis, we have learned much and now realize to a far greater extent the struggles of parents of children with exceptionalities to find healthy and appropriate recreational activities for their children. Our children, much like their typically developing peers, want and need to simply have fun. There is no better environment for these children to thrive than playing alongside their typical peers. It is our understanding that this park would promote inclusion of all types of children with varying needs rather than separating them by ability or physical skill.  

Our home town of Fort Scott, Kan., is a small community with many children with special needs but few resources to engage them. As parents of a son with autism, we realize the financial burdens that come with the territory. Many times, parents feel pressure, and rightly so, to direct financial resources toward the many types of therapy our children require, leaving little for recreation. Furthermore, we have many low-income families dealing with these sorts of problems whose children do not have access to opportunities for fun activities. Moreover, Fort Scott has an exceptionally high rate of children with autism. For these young people, a means to meet sensory issues is essential for them to learn, develop and cope with life. An adaptive playground would serve children in each of these categories. We would love to see all these children laughing, playing and socializing the same as their typical peers.

Recent studies have shown that as a society, we tend to place disproportionate emphasis on academics over physical activity for very young children, much to their detriment. Many believe the result is a lack of social skills such as sharing and turn-taking and an increase in sensory issues. Active, free play is an invaluable learning experience. Maneuvering the environment with its variances in terrain and experiencing all the sights, sounds and feelings of the great outdoors fully engages the senses. These experiences may be even more important for children with special needs who, depending on their diagnosis, may already be at a social or physical disadvantage. A play area constructed with these children in mind, would give them a chance to spread their wings and strengthen their minds and bodies in ways otherwise impossible. 

There is no better investment than one in our youth. We believe that children with special needs can become active, responsible members of our community. We would love to see them benefit from a safe, friendly environment to promote the life skills they will need to live a productive life and have a little fun at the same time.

You can show your support and purchase your tax-deductible tickets online at fortscott.com or at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce 231 E. Wall Street Fort Scott, KS 66701. Ticket are $50 each.

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