Arabella “Belle” Garcia’s screams of joy rang out Saturday morning across the HELFMAN Playground for All.
Playing on its swing was especially exciting for the 7-year-old Garcia, who must utilize a walker to get around. Before Saturday, she had never been able to play on a swing set or most other typical playground equipment.
Now, she and all children with physical disabilities have a quaint neighborhood space to simply be kids. Meadows Place ushered in the HELFMAN Playground for All on Saturday, the culmination of a project three years in the making as the result of a partnership between the city of Meadows Place, nearby Helfman Ford and H & H Landscaping.
The finished park includes artificial turf specially installed by H & H and specialized equipment such as swing sets and seesaws, with a wheelchair-accessible carousel and more equipment still to come within the next two weeks.
Garcia’s swing, specially created for those with physical disabilities with a contraption that locks their legs in place and allows the freedom of swinging with no fear of falling, stands as one of a kind. It is painted yellow to distinguish itself from the rest.
After all, it was her family’s request that paved the way for the project.
“A lot of people here watched me grow up. Now they’re watching my kids,” said Garcia’s mother, Emily Garcia, who has been part of the Meadows Place community for 30 years. “There’s something so wonderful knowing it’s safe for her – knowing her walker is less likely to catch on something and that she’s less likely to fall. Knowing there’s something so close to what has been my home for so long where she can feel content and at home is amazing.”
The journey began in 2016, when the city’s Youth Action Council (YAC) and director Colene Cabezas planted the seed during a state convention. Over the last three years, the YAC has conducted fundraisers at city events and taken part in city auctions to help fund the revamped park, doing everything from fun runs to
working at dog shows to babysitting to beach cleanups.
“We were able to do something special in our community that was realized by the mere request of a swing,” said Cabezas, who also serves as director of the Meadows Place Parks Department.
Through the fundraisers, installments from nearby Helfman Ford and community donations, the group was able to raise $127,000 to help make the project a reality.
Eric Helfman said he heard about the plans for the playground through a chance encounter with a customer who told him of the community’s need. As it turns out, that was one of Belle’s relatives. Helfman said the customer was really asking for just a swing set. But he believed the project could be bigger, reaching out
to Cabezas and YAC for their help.
“Now we have this unbelievable experience that we can share together, and I’m honored that we got to be a part of it,” Helfman said. “It’s been so humbling to see a community that cares so much about one another enough to have everyone make a difference in their own way.”
At the time Helfman asked for help, Cabezas said her YAC kids were simultaneously asking what they could do bigger for their community. So it was a perfect storm of desire.
“They wanted to do something that could impact the community for a long time,” Cabezas said.
Emily Garcia couldn’t be more grateful.
“I’ve already teared up and cried enough today,” she said. “But it really is something special to have a child that is special but for them not to see it.”
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