HATTIESBURG — When Brian McPhail took his children to the playground at Kamper Park, his son often sat on the sidelines watching his sister play.
Brian’s son, Adam, 9, was confined to a wheelchair that could not be maneuvered across the sandy surface. When lifted out of the wheelchair, Adam was unable to move about on the playground equipment because it did not have ramps or side rails.
As the result of a local leadership class project, a playground for handicapped children — Adam’s Place — will open at Kamper Park, one of the most visited zoos in the state, by the end of the summer.
“You don’t recognize the need for something like a handicap-accessible playground until you’re presented with it,” said McPhail.
Like 2,468 other children in the Hattiesburg MSA, Adam is handicapped. His debilitation is the result of a rare bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, which affects the strength of the bone tissue and renders him susceptible to frequent breaks without warning.
Two years ago, Adam’s doctor, John Purvis, a pediatric orthopedic specialist of Pediatric Orthopaedic Specialists of Mississippi, mentioned that Hattiesburg would be an ideal location for a handicap-accessible playground. Purvis had long been involved with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), an organization that has built similar playgrounds around the nation.
“My mom and I decided we would try to make that happen,” said McPhail. “We had written a business plan and started working in that direction when the leadership class for the Area Development Partnership adopted it last year.”
Barbara Spencer, a member of the 2001 Leaders For A New Century class, an initiative of the Area Development Partnership, presented the project to team leader Jay Estes.
“We wanted a project that would help the community, be self-sustaining, and be here long after we’re gone,” she said. “It was also a project we could put our hearts into. However, it was the biggest project a leadership class had undertaken and we thought maybe we were biting off more than we could chew. It’s amazing, though, what will happen if you just keep going. Many more projects could happen in a town if people would stick with a project.”
The team, which also included Benjie Barham, John Brown, Kendra McGee-Jones, Mark Prince and Kelly Southern, often met at Kamper Park for a brown bag lunch to discuss project details.
“We’d watch children play while we worked out details of this project,” she said. “They would come in busloads from eight or nine surrounding counties.”
On “Design Day,” handicapped children, including a group from the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens, participated in the project.
“We had a really nice day getting children’s ideas of how they wanted the playground to look,” she said. “Then we sat down with a company that helped us come up with an overall design.”
The playground will be adjacent to the existing one, which will also be renovated. A wood carpet will replace sand and a wheelchair parking area will be added. With an additional 8,000 square feet, the play space will be doubled and will include panels in Braille, railings and ramps.
“An able-bodied child can have just as much fun and it’s much safer,” said McPhail. “They all ought to be done like that.”
Even though the project is still about $5,000 short of the $121,000 price tag, the equipment has been ordered and plans are in place for the playground to be built by the end of August. The City of Hattiesburg donated site and preparation work, which will likely take place this month. The American Legion presented its largest-ever single donation of $25,000 to the team. Dr. Doug Rouse, King of Zeus for the Mardi Gras celebration held at the Hattiesburg Country Club, raised nearly $18,000 by requesting contributions for the playground in lieu of traditional gifts. The Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the local chapter of The United Way each donated $5,000. The local Realtors board and the local chapter of the Home Builders Association chipped in $1,000 each. The AAOS has sent donations from both state and national levels.
“Once word spread about this project, the community support has been amazing,” said Spencer, marketing director for Canebrake Golf Club in Hattiesburg. “We received a check for $1,000 from an out-of- state family that had lost children to disabilities. They heard about our project and drove to a city that had one like ours and said they wanted to help. My boss, Paige York-Losee, gave a birthday party for her four-year-old son and asked for donations instead of gifts. Volunteers from all over the city have been calling, asking how they could help.”
By mid-July, the team should have a weekend scheduled for constructing the playground. A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 6. When complete, the city will maintain it.
“Each project in each leadership class takes on a life of its own,” said Gray Swoope, president of the Area Development Partnership. “You can look around the community and see an impact of leadership classes. It’s another example of an exciting project where bright minds put together in a leadership training environment come together to make an impact on the community that will last forever.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org</a.