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FRIDAY, JANUARY 5, 2007
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Sarah Kate Sligh, 4, who has a form of cerebral palsy, has difficulty on traditional playgrounds because uneven surfaces cause her to fall. Junior League of Morgan County has pledged to raise money for a planned playground at Delano Park that will be accessible to all children, including those with handicaps. Sarah Kate's mom, Andi, left, is a Junior League member.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Sarah Kate Sligh, 4, who has a form of cerebral palsy, has difficulty on traditional playgrounds because uneven surfaces cause her to fall. Junior League of Morgan County has pledged to raise money for a planned playground at Delano Park that will be accessible to all children, including those with handicaps. Sarah Kate's mom, Andi, left, is a Junior League member.

She wants to play on even ground
For Sarah Kate Sligh and others like her, a smooth surface at planned Delano area will make it easier to play

By Patrice Stewart
stewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Sarah Kate Sligh tossed her walker aside, doesn't want to use a cane and can't wait to make her way along a smooth surface and up a ramp to go down a slide.

She turned 4 on Dec. 27, so it's time to begin acting more grown-up. But she would like to play some, too.

Surgery and therapy have helped Sarah Kate Sligh walk without assistance, but she has trouble getting started and stopping.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Surgery and therapy have helped Sarah Kate Sligh walk without assistance, but she has trouble getting started and stopping.
For Sarah Kate, 2006 was a long year of therapy following surgery, so in 2007 she's planning more volunteer work. That includes helping Junior League of Morgan County let people know about the planned accessible playground for all children in Delano Park and brick pavers they can purchase to aid the project.

Her mom, Andi, a Junior League member who serves on the playground committee, says they'll get one with her name on it — or maybe several, after she explains to friends and relatives that proceeds from the embossed bricks will benefit this special playground. Sarah Kate was born 10 weeks prematurely and with spastic diplegia, a mild form of cerebral palsy affecting her legs and gross motor skills. She spent her first 53 days in a Birmingham hospital. With a gait trainer similar to a walker, she has participated in March of Dimes walks.

Since dorsal rhizotomy surgery a year ago this week, she has strengthened her leg muscles with dance classes, swimming and yoga. She's had intense periods of therapy in Birmingham, as well as regular therapy sessions in Decatur and even Botox treatments to relax her hamstring muscles. While she still wears braces on her lower legs, she can now walk without assistance. She still has trouble getting started and stopping, and needs a piece of furniture or person to help her pull up.

"But she's trying, and working on that," said her mom. "And usually, when she starts trying to do something without us making her, she's close to doing it."

Some "angels" have helped the family pay the cost of therapy not covered by insurance — about $8,000 in 2006 — and faith and prayers helped, too. You can read about their experiences in their online blog: smilingatgod
.blogspot.com.

She attends Church Street Academy preschool at First Baptist Church of Decatur two mornings a week. She would like to play on a playground with her friends, but the uneven surface of mulch used on traditional playgrounds at many parks, schools and churches can cause her to fall, and then she has to crawl until she reaches help.

The planned boundless playground that is accessible to all children will have a surface that helps children get around with wheelchairs, walkers, strollers or crutches. It also will have ramps to specially designed slides and activity centers.

The mother and daughter are serving as spokespeople to help Friends of Delano Park and Junior League explain the benefits of and raise funds for an accessible playground and sensory garden with story circle for Decatur. The playground equipment and special surface is expected to cost $400,000. Junior League pledged to raise money for the project through its decorator showhouse, Bag-a-Bargain and brick pavers. The city of Decatur also promised funds to help match a possible Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, said Barbara Kelly, vice president of Friends of Delano Park.

Kelly believes the letter Sligh wrote in support of the grant will make a big impact:

"In many ways my daughter is a typical preschooler. She loves to read, watch Disney movies, draw . . . She has a joyful laugh, a sweet voice and is socially and intellectually equal to her peers. In particular, she enjoys physical play, such as swinging and sliding. Unfortunately, most playgrounds are virtually impossible for her to maneuver without a great deal of assistance. Sarah Kate has only recently learned to walk on her own, and the simplest things, such as the mulch used to line most playgrounds, are considerable obstacles for her.

"The most difficult obstacle for Sarah Kate, however, is not a physical one. The additional assistance she requires in playgrounds not equipped to accommodate children with disabilities separates her from the other typical children. It is the segregation from her peers which naturally occurs in a typical playground that is most difficult to overcome.

"Playtime is not only physically beneficial to children, it also benefits them socially. In a setting where children are able to interact with other children of varying abilities, a respect for these varying abilities will be cultivated. And when children of all abilities play together, those children who are most visibly different will feel just a little bit more 'typical,' which positively impacts self-esteem....

"A boundless playground won't cure my daughter of her condition. It will, however, provide her with a wonderful opportunity to interact with her peers and to develop her own special gifts. In the words of John F. Kennedy, 'All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.' "

“Andi Sligh and Katherine Lawson have really worked hard on this project,” said Tidwell.

“This is a personal project to Junior League members, because children are very important, especially children with disabilities. We want to give all children a chance to giggle and have fun at a playground,” Tidwell said.

SHORT SIDEBAR:

Accessible playgrounds cost a lot, so Junior League of Morgan County has taken on the one planned in Delano Park as its major community project.

"We raised a lot for this playground with our first decorator showhouse in 2005," said Karen Tidwell, Junior League board member and community vice president. "Our next Bag-a-Bargain coming up March 10 will benefit the playground, too." Another decorator showhouse is planned in the fall.

"We also decided to sell tribute bricks for the playground to make it more personal and to let people put messages on them or give them in honor or in memory of people," Tidwell said.

Pave the way

Brochures explaining the planned accessible playground and telling how to purchase brick pavers at $150 for a 4x8-inch size or $250 for the 8x8-inch size are available from Junior League members or from the League office, P.O. Box 486, Decatur, AL 35602.

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