East Hill Notes: Stewart Park playground: ‘One step in the right direction’

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On an annual basis, Cornell University students contribute thousands of volunteer hours in and around Tompkins County.


With this mix, are the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars (commitment.cornell.edu/meinig-scholars) who I’ve had the privilege to work with and mentor over several years.


My present group of students is gearing up to raise funds for the new Stewart Park Inclusive Playground (friendsofstewartpark.org/playground) that addresses a critical local need.


As organizers note, at present, “Traditional playgrounds, Stewart Park’s included, can make it difficult or even impossible for children with disabilities or mobility impairments to navigate and use the equipment to fully enjoy their playground experience.


The new Stewart Park Playground will be like no other in the region: innovatively and creatively designed, It will be an accessible playground for children of all abilities.”


It’s fact that few of us are as busy as Cornell students, who juggle heavy coursework obligations with everything from jobs to pay the bills to ROTC, from clubs and internships to a can-do spirit of volunteerism that most had long before they moved to Ithaca.


Recently, I asked a few of them why they thought the Stewart Park project was important, here and now, though most will move from Ithaca on to careers and other pursuits upon graduation:

Ashley Lewis, a sophomore, Wake Forest, NC
“I used to nanny for a young girl who had cerebral palsy and it was always a challenge for her parents and me to find activities that she could engage in outside of the house. An accessible playground like this one will give children the ability to interact with their peers on equal ground, without being limited by the ableist structures that are treated as the default in our society.”


Savannah Figueroa, a first-year student, Yonkers
“As we, as a society, continue to progress, the inequities in our treatment of all kinds of people are highlighted. An inclusive playground is one step in the right direction of making this world one that everyone can live and thrive in equally. Allowing children to grow without limits, even in something as simple as a playground, encourages a strength and perseverance every child deserves to feel.”

Nicholas Smith, a junior, Maitland, FL
“An inclusion playground is important because every child should have the opportunity to have fun equally with their peers, regardless of circumstance. If we’re to make real progress in enabling those with disabilities, leveling the playing field early in life and across the board is crucial.”

Megan Goyette, a sophomore, Columbia, MO
“The Stewart Park inclusive playground is such a cool way for the community to come together and support the lives of every kid in our community regardless of ability. The previous playground is not accessible to every child. It is important to make the effort to come together as a community and change that.”

Josie Noriega, a first-year student, San Antonio, TX
“When I was a young girl, the playground was my favorite place because I was challenged with my friends to explore and move through an environment. Playgrounds are something most children experience with the exception of non-inclusive playgrounds for children with accommodating needs. As a child matures, playground experience is a common ground for most, making them feel included and similar.”

Leslie Zhang, a sophomore, San Diego, CA
“I think an inclusive playground is important because it creates a closer-knit community by fostering a fun environment for all children, no matter their disability, to participate in.”

Brycen Holland, senior, Lehigh Valley, PA
“Playing outside with friends is a key part of a child’s development, and an inclusive playground offers children who typically miss out on this part of childhood an opportunity to simply enjoy their time at a playground, as a kid should. Additionally, inclusive playgrounds let parents with disabilities accompany their children while they play, which is something I believe every parent and child should have the chance to experience.”

For more information, or to make a contribution to this important project, please access friendsofstewartpark.org/give


The new Stewart Park Inclusive Playground project is led by Friends of Stewart Park, which is working in partnership with the City of Ithaca to revitalize this historic lakefront park in time for its centennial on July 4, 2021.


East Hill Notes are published the first and third Wednesdays of each month in Tompkins Weekly. Gary Stewart is Cornell’s assistant vice president for community relations.

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