Leadership Lafayette has partnered with the Mississippi Society for Disabilities (MSD) to create a fundraiser named “Play Without Barriers” that will bring accessible playground equipment to Bailey Branch Park for children of all ability levels and their families.
Leadership Lafayette’s fundraising goal is set at $20,000. An arm of the Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lafayette consists of community leaders divided into groups, each focused on a different community improvement project.
“Playgrounds can create a barrier to play and people usually don’t think about that,” said Tanya Nichols, Leadership Lafayette 2019 participant and project manager for the University of Mississippi’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. “An open park seems like it has no limitations. But if a play structure is not accessible, it is not inclusive. In being a diverse community, we have to think about access, inclusion, and equity even when it comes to children playing. It’s important to create a space where kids have that opportunity.”
The playground, located on the corner of Highway-7 South and Office Park Drive, will see three phases of equipment installation each priced at $85,000: equipment suitable for ages five to 12, independent play structures located in shade, and a playground suitable for children ages two to five. All phases should be complete by 2022 with the first stage to be finished by spring 2020.
“This project will enrich our community in a number of ways,” Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Pam Swain said. “We are such a young family-focused community, and our quality of life is our major asset. Having an accessible playground in this community will allow all children to thrive and play. We are beyond excited about MSD’s plans.”
To fundraise for this project, Leadership Lafayette is helping MSD organize a family- friendly, community event titled “Jazz Under the Stars” with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra on June 27 at the Old Armory Pavilion. In-kind donations such as beverages, items for door prizes, and volunteers are welcome. To be an event sponsor, “Play Without Barriers” offers a personalized brick to be placed at Bailey Branch for a $50 or more donation and tickets to “Jazz Under the Stars” for a $100 or more donation. The deadline for jazz concert sponsorship and in-kind donations is June 20th and all other monetary gifts should be submitted by August 1st. To donate, the Chamber of Commerce will accept credit card or checks with “Play Without Barriers” written in the memo. “Jazz Under the Stars” tickets will be available on the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council’s website for $12 and $6 for children.
“There are so many needs being met by this equipment, such as slides insulated with stainless steel for the benefit of children with cochlear implants,” Nichols said. “Conventional slides create static build-up that causes a child’s implant to explode. This project is not only bringing inclusive fun to our community, it is also keeping our children safe.”
MSD has already completed two other similar playgrounds, both in Madison. Future plans include bringing accessible equipment to Brandon, the Gulf Coast and Crystal Springs. MSD has partnered with the Mississippi Toughest Kids Foundation to create the state’s first year-round accessible camp called Camp Kamassa.
“We want everyone to be on the same level, the same piece of ground, playing together,” MSD Program Director Zac Ryan Halstead said. “Rather than bringing a child with special needs into the world of the child who is able-bodied, we reverse that. We bring the able-bodied child into the world of the child with special needs. It helps to promote awareness and understanding. It bridges that gap between being able-bodied and disabled, especially when you’re young.”
The Oxford-Lafayette community can expect both Avent Park and Garden Terrace to also see new accessible playground equipment over the next five years.