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Newspaper Article

Syracuse resident to create new park
Mom will raise money to build the handicapped-accessible playground.
By Andrew Maddocks

The Salt Lake Tribune

Chloe Bennett truly loves to swing, her mother Tara says. The 2-year-old swoops back and forth, laughing and smiling, her eyes beaming.

But any swing without high back support is dangerous for Chloe, born with a form of cerebral palsy, she cannot support herself. So Chloe relies entirely on her mother at nonaccessible parks to move around, stay upright, or even lie down in the sandbox.

"Chloe's not sitting on the sidelines crying, but I am, internally," Bennett said.

There isn't a single handicapped accessible park within an hour of Bennett's Syracuse home. Not only does Chloe love swinging and playing, but Bennett says the therapy associated with play is a critical part of Chloe's physical development.

So last month, Bennett decided to bring a wheelchair-accessible park to Syracuse herself.

She presented the idea to Syracuse City Administrator Rodger Worthen and City Council earlier this month. Officials are supportive, especially since Bennett intends to start a nonprofit organization and raise $800,000 -- her estimated total cost for the park -- herself -.

"I think it could be a great thing for city," Worthen said.

An accessible park features rubber surfaces easier to roll over than wood chips and ramps to the top of playground features so children, whether handicapped or not, can participate.

In early meetings, two potential sites emerged for the 2-acre playground: plots of land near the new Syracuse Fire Department building and in Jensen Nature Park.

The fire station site would be close to medical emergency services, Worthen said, and guide out-of-town visitors straight through downtown. Jensen Nature Park's established popularity would bring in more non-handicapped children, Bennett said, an important part of the plan.

With the city council's ongoing support, she hopes to have the tentatively named Sunshine Park open in less than five years.

Direction for the project came from of an article about Zachary's Playground in Lake St. Louis, Mo. Natalie Blakemore coordinated the construction of an accessible park for her son Zachary. Blakemore happens to be Syracuse City Councilman Doug Peterson's cousin.

Bennett hopes to connect with Blakemore, and streamline the fundraising and construction process even more.

Facing the obvious challenge of starting a nonprofit and raising nearly a million dollars, Bennett says she will draw on her experience volunteering for the Make a Wish Foundation and from business classes at the University of Phoenix. Once the Syracuse park is complete, Bennett dreams of building an accessible park in every county in Utah.

For now she wants to make sure Chloe, and other children with physical handicaps, can play independently. Playgrounds are a right of passage, and Bennett sees no reason why any child should miss out.

In her eyes, it's only a matter of time before Chloe moves from her backyard swing to the playground. It's all part of a lifelong pledge Bennett made to her daughter -- anything is possible.

"We might have to get creative and work hard," Bennett said. "But she'll always be able to do whatever she wants."

Photo Shoot

Today a photographer from The Salt Lake Tribune came to our house to take photos of Chloe. They will be doing an article about Chloe and our plans for Sunshine Playground. Doesn't she look cute for her big debut!?!?!?....

The story is scheduled to run in next Thursday's paper as part of the 'Up Close' section. Be sure to watch for it!

City Council Presentation

Here is a recap of the slideshow I presented to the city council tonight:

Inspired by....

My daughter Chloe has a severe seizure disorder and cerebral palsy. She loves life and is a true joy! But when we go to playgrounds, she can only watch from the sidelines because most playgrounds do not offer play options that allow accessibility for Chloe’s wheelchair and physical needs. I realized that I need to take a stand for Chloe and the many special children like her who live in this area because all children deserve a place to play!

What is an accessible playground?....

Allows all children to play side-by-side and enjoy being children
Allows for wheelchair access: transfer stations, ramps, wider paths, stable surfaces, table play, ample space around equipment
Rubberized surfaces ideal for wheelchairs and walkers
Swings to accommodate children in wheelchairs and high-back swings for children with poor head control
Toys that promote balance
Tactile and auditory elements
Integrates sign language, Braille and pictures
Elements for teaching


For the children:

Having fun
Vestibular Therapy
Sensory Stimulation
A feeling of being ‘normal’
Integration and learning to accept differences

For Syracuse:

Positive press
Frequent visitors

Cost & Funding.....

Cost to build an accessible playground is approximately $800,000 for cost of landscape architect, labor & playground supplies
Seeking land to be donated by Syracuse City
In the process of creating Non-Profit Organization: The No child Left Out Project
Community Impact Fund
State and Federal grants (autism, special physical education, and others)
Donations from other NPO’s
Local fund-raising


Blog ( & blog promotion
Donation/paypal button on the blog
Press release about the project which will direct people to the blog for donations
Weekly stories on the blog of children and families who will benefit from the park
Determine location and place plaque ‘Future home of Sunshine Park’ along with flyers that will again direct people to the blog to make donations
Stories in local newspapers and magazines
Local news appearances

Desired Location....

Jensen Park

This is an existing park with many acres still available for use
Existing parking and amenities available
This is a place where many people come and will come to the new park. This will make the park a place for everyone instead of just a ‘special needs park.’ Being with all types of children is an important part of the park
Will revolve the theme of the accessible playground around the ‘nature’ theme

Thank you!....

After the presentation, one councilmember said his cousin developed an accessible playground in St Louis. He gave me her contact information so she can hold my hand through the process. Another councilmember said his brother and sister-in-law had built a playground in memory of their deceased child. He gave me their contact information so they could give me ideas with fund-raising, etc. They also told me there was another citizen who brought this idea to their attention last year, and they said they would give me her contact information so she can team up to help this come to fruition.

All in all, I felt like everything could not have gone better than it did! The next step is meeting with the councilmembers after they think about different options for the location. Will keep you posted!