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Popular all-inclusive playground to celebrate 10 years with fundraiser for maintenance

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POCATELLO — Brooklyn’s Playground, an all-inclusive playground designed to promote children of all mental and physical abilities to play together, turns 10 next week.

As part of the celebration, a fundraiser is being held Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m., to pay for a necessary resurfacing.

Jonny Fisher rallied the Pocatello community to first fund the playground, with assistance from corporate sponsorship, and then build it. It took 3,000 volunteers one full week to build, he said. Now, as expected, the surface of the playground is in need of replacement — or at least revitalization.

The committee that maintains the playground is throwing a “carnival-like” fundraising celebration for O.K. Ward Park, Fisher said. There will be a petting zoo, a 53-foot obstacle course, a dunk tank and more activities.

“It’s going to be a celebration and a fundraiser at the same time,” he added. “There’s going to be all sorts of fun things for the family to do.”

Fisher saw a need for the playground when his daughter, Brooklyn, was 4. She was born with spin Bifida — a neural tube defect that prevents proper spine development in a fetus. Brooklyn, now a sophomore at Highland High School, doesn’t use the playground as much as she once did, Fisher joked.

For children like Brooklyn, who need a wheelchair or walker to get around, there are ramps. There are also only solid surfaces — no sand or bark. There are sensory “coves” for kids with Down Syndrome or similar disorders to escape overstimulation, and the entire playground is enclosed, with just one entrance and exit to prevent wandering.

“It’s a playground for kids of all abilities,” Fisher said. “Able-bodied kids can come here and have fun, kids in wheelchairs, kids with walkers, kids with mental disabilities — it’s designed around being inclusive to everybody.”

Fisher came up with the idea after visiting a similar playground in Utah with Brooklyn.

Over the course of about a year, the committee raised $575,000 and compiled 3,000 volunteers to do the work from Sept. 19 to Sept. 26, 2011.

Fisher is still in awe at the support Brooklyn’s Playground received. He joked that some of the volunteers had no prior experience and some didn’t even know how to use a drill but they showed up to help where they could.

“There was a lot of thought, love, care and consideration that went into making this playground inclusive for everybody,” Fisher said. “You can see, it’s not a kit. It’s raw lumber, screws — we put the whole thing together.”

One of the few jobs the playground had to outsource was the laying of the surface. It was also the most expensive part of the construction, because the massive play area had to be covered wall to wall by the solid rubber floor. And it was known at the time that, in 10 to 12 years, the entire surface would likely need to be replaced.

According to Fisher, $150,000 will need to be raised over the next year in order for the playground to undergo the needed replacement next fall.

He hopes that this weekend’s fundraiser sends Brooklyn’s Playground in the direction of achieving that goal.

Tickets, which can be purchased at the event or on easternidahodownsyndrome.org, are $15 per person with a group of five costing $60. The event will include dinner, as well as a memorial walk for Maria Neumann, who Fisher said was instrumental in the construction of the playground and died in the last year.

Aside from the playing surface, the playground is in pristine condition — partly because the committee returns twice per year to clean and inspect everything and partly because of the way it was built.

“I think, honestly, one of the reasons why this playground has lasted and still looks so amazing is that it was built with love. Everybody feels a sense of ownership, it’s their playground,” Fisher said. “It’s been awesome to see, over the last 10 years, so many kids that have had that opportunity — and all the stories that we hear from parents and how it’s changed their child’s life. It makes it all worth it.”

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