Sunshine on My Shoulders Makes Me Happy

I’m always amazed how people are woven into our lives to teach us lessons in love, hope, humility, and kindness. God has a funny way of wrapping up tough situations with a big bow on top and handing them back to us in the most unexpected ways.   Today was one of those days for me. 

But first let me back up and start from the beginning.

When I was a child, I was diagnosed with a rare hip disease called Legg Calve Perthes.  I touched on the subject in the story of my childhood home. I also talked about my whole experience over in this post if you’re interested to hear all about it in great detail.  If you just want the Cliff Notes version, allow me to hit the highlights. 

From Kindergarten through third grade I was not allowed to run, jump, skip or hop.

At all.

Period. 

Nothing more than walking slowly was allowed.  The risk of damaging my hip joint was too great, so during the growing years I was put on strict doctor’s orders not to put any amount major of weight on my leg unless it was in a brace.  Before I got the brace in the 2nd grade, I was extremely limited in my mobility.  Every day when recess time rolled around, I was told that I had to sit inside at my desk and color while all of my classmates got to go outside to play in the sunshine.  Imagine telling a six year old child that they cannot go outside and play with all of their friends.  What do you think happened next?  Of course I was devastated, and would start to cry.   To add insult to injury, my first grade teacher didn’t have a sympathetic bone in her body.   Whenever I started to cry, she would go over to her curtained cubbyhole and pull out this gigantic rubber pacifier that she would hang around my neck. Then, she would call me a cry-baby in front of the entire classroom. 

True story.  

Eventually the PE teacher discovered that I was not allowed to go outside with the class because of my hip.  In an ironic twist of fate, that same PE teacher had also been diagnosed with my exact same rare hip disease when he had been a child.  So, every single day the PE teacher would come to my classroom, pick me up and place me on his shoulders and carry me outside in the sunshine to watch the other kids play.  I still was not allowed to run, jump, skip and hop like all the other kids, but I was happy perched atop his shoulders because I was outside in the sunshine and not left behind sobbing in an empty classroom wearing a giant pacifier around my neck. 

Back view of father carrying his little daughter on shoulders

Fast forward thirty years to last summer, to the day before my son started Kindergarten at public school.  I was sitting in the school hallway assembling a PTO Angry Birds bulletin board when Kelly, the PTO president, came to me and asked me to look at something outside.  She took me out to a scraggly, forgotten area between two of the school buildings and showed me a concrete slab with a few old toys scattered around it.  “This is our special needs playground.  I would like to make it the PTO’s mission this year to give these kids a better place to play.”

She went on to explain to me how the kids in the special needs class were not allowed to go outside very often because the area was not fenced in, and some of them were prone to wander.  Since there is just one teacher and several aides in the class, they couldn’t handle taking all of the kids to the playground all at once.  They only took the kids outside a few at a time so there was close to a one-to-one student to teacher ratio.  This meant that while a handful of students got to play outside, a few were left behind in the classroom with an aide while their classmates went outside in the fresh air.   Sometimes the entire class stayed inside because it was just too hard for the teachers to take them out at all without a fence enclosure.  Just one glance around that concrete slab with a few broken toys that they called a playground, and I was heartbroken and convicted.  I knew that Kelly and I were going to make this happen for these kids this year.  There was not a doubt in my mind it was going to happen. We encountered a few stumbling blocks along the way, but we were determined. Every single child deserves the opportunity to get outside and enjoy fresh air in the middle of a school day.  Kelly and I made it our mission that day to get it done for those kids. 

Here was the playground in the beginning of this school year:

photo(18)

In case you don’t know? 

Playground equipment ain’t cheap.  And adaptive (ADA) playground equipment is even more expensive.   The previous PTO members had been trying to raise money to build an adaptive playground for years at the school, and up until this point they had raised enough to add in a major underground drainage system and pour the concrete slab with rubber surfacing, as well as leave about $1,000 toward the goal of $33,000 for the special equipment.  That was a major accomplishment, but there was still equipment needed, and a fence. There were a lot of other peripheral items on the quote but we eventually decided to break it up into separate phases so that it wasn’t such a daunting amount of money to raise.  The equipment that we wanted the most was a platform swing that locks in a wheelchair and another big swingset with safety bars that latch kids in so they can swing safely.  This total amount came to just over $10,000.  That sounded way more do-able to me than $33k.

Kelly and I set to work at the beginning of the school year with this goal in mind.  I wrote letters to local business people and made phone calls to politicians. I created a flyer with photos and mailed it out to lots of local businesses.  I called the local newspaper and put out a request to the public for donations.  We asked the PTO to vote to give a portion of our money to the playground fund.  I called all of my connections and got items like hose pipes and hose reels and bird feeders and mosquito repellant donated from True Value Hardware. At Christmastime last year they generously donated over $700 worth of products to help our school! (Thanks True Value!)

True Value Donations

I got EXTREMELY lucky and worked out an unbelievable sale price on six foot high white vinyl fence panels from the contractor sales desk from another big box store. (Thank you Larry!).

One of the teachers had a son who needed to complete his Eagle Scout project, and he worked SO hard over his entire Spring Break to get the fence and gate installed for us.  The principal had a friend who owned a sod farm that donated 3 pallets of fresh sod for us to lay on top of the scruffy areas.  Kelly got out there along with the principal’s husband and a few dad volunteers and layed three pallets of sod by hand last week before it started to turn brown. 

Seriously… Blood, sweat and tears, y’all. And lots of hard work.

But.

It is finished.

VES Adaptive Playground Ribbon Cutting RESIZED IMAGES (3 of 44)

I’m am thrilled and overjoyed and just SO FREAKING HAPPY to be able to finally announce that Phase One of the new special needs adaptive playground is OPEN FOR BUSINESS.  We had a ribbon cutting ceremony with all the kids and donors and volunteers today. The turnout was just incredible, and everyone was overjoyed by the end results. 
VES Adaptive Playground Ribbon Cutting RESIZED IMAGES (4 of 44)

I could not be more ecstatic about the way this entire labor of love has unfolded in front of me.  The kids have been allowed to go outside and play together as a class together for a few weeks now.  The weather has been perfection.

VES Adaptive Playground Ribbon Cutting RESIZED IMAGES (14 of 44)

And here are the results of all of our hard work this year:

VES Adaptive Playground Ribbon Cutting RESIZED IMAGES (37 of 44)

The sun is finally shining again after the longest, hardest winter in recent memory.  As I type this I am imagining those happy faces smiling in the sunshine and it just makes me want to cry big tears of joy.

VES Adaptive Playground Ribbon Cutting RESIZED IMAGES (38 of 44)

Not only for these babies cutting the ribbon today with their tiny scissors, but also for that six year old little girl inside me who got to sit on the shoulders of a PE teacher over 30 years ago and smile in the sunshine, too.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Beth, Wow! Thank you for sharing this amazing story! First of all, I love that with God there are no coincidences, God brought your PE teacher into your life for a reason! And now this playground, it is so wonderful, I am sitting hear crying happy tears that you were able to use what was a dark time in your childhood and turn it around for many others so they won’t experience the same thing. Thank you for being obedient to what God called you to do! I LOVE reading blog posts like this so thank you for sharing!

  2. Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing blessing this is to these children. My father was handicapped and walked with one leg on crutches, as he couldn’t wear a prosthesis, and it is very hard for children. So glad you were able to give back. Thanks for all you do!

  3. That is awesome! What a great way to help those kids!! Lovely story.

  4. Thank you for standing determined with me this year! I’m so proud of what has been accomplished for these babies! The excitement and smiles on their faces this morning made all of the frustration, hard work, and dirty hands worth it. Thanks for all you’ve done to help, friend!

  5. Beth, that is so exciting. You just made some kids and parents very happy. Great work.

  6. This is beautiful Beth! The other day when I was having a tough go, I read a quote that said, ‘Some day this pain will make sense’. I think today is your day! Thanks for being there for children who often don’t have a voice.

  7. Oh my God – makes you want to cry imagining those kids’ faces smiling in the sunshine?! I AM crying, just reading this, and seeing in the photos the faces of those children cutting that ribbon, your personal story of being abused (yes, that’s what that teacher did to you), and knowing now what DIY projects you’ve been up to lately. Thank you, Beth, for advocating for those kids and working so hard. You’ve earned at least one angel wing, if not both.
    Rita C at Panoply

  8. Oh Beth…you are an angel to those children and to so many more who will see the benefits of this special play area! Congratulations! The community is lucky to have angels like you!

  9. OH My GOSH!! I’m sitting her crying like a baby. First, because you had to sit inside with a big pacifier around your neck and second because as a mom of a son with severe autism I know first hand how important this is. My son is a wanderer and an escape artist. He could never be on a playground without a fence and for years it took TWO aides with him at all times. You are doing the Lord’s work and I couldn’t be prouder to call you my friend. God Bless!!

  10. Oh, Beth, this brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful thing you guys have done for those sweet children. Oh, and I had an evil beast of a teacher in the first grade too, and it’s amazing how those sorts of things really do stick with you for life!

  11. This is such an amazing story. There’s nothing better in this world than when someone turns a negative into a positive. I love that you were able to make this happen not just for just these children but all the ones to come after them too. Great things happen to great people. Congratulations to ALL of you!

  12. What a great story – for many different reasons. I taught school and hate to hear about other teachers who were mean to kids! She’ll be grading papers in some hot place for eternity!

    As a PTO volunteer, I applaude your hard work! This is a major accomplishment! Congratulations.

    And as a former little girl who hated PE and would have rather stayed inside and colored, I now feel very guilty!

  13. Jenny Walker says:

    Incredible Beth!! So proud of your heart and determination to get this done for these kids. People like you make this world a better place! Miss you!

  14. I’d say you sat a whole bunch of kids on your own shoulders with this labor of love.

  15. I love this. And you! And Kelly. And your PE teacher. And the Eagle Scout, the sod farmer, True Value, and Larry at Lowes. And the expressions on the faces of those kids and teachers.
    <3

    And not your first-grade teacher, who I would punch, but I digress.

  16. Thanks for sharing! Way to be a blessing and in turn be blessed!

  17. Karen Nolan Bell says:

    How awesome! It is wonderful to see how a desire to help others comes to fruition. My son is an Eagle Scout and had one of those projects that helped a group of people who were doing without because of money. Kudos for your group!

  18. Nancy Sharp says:

    God bless you for this wonderful project.

  19. Beautiful! Nice work!! So happy they have a special place to play.

  20. Kelly Solak says:

    Beth, I have been reading your posts for a year or so now and this one really struck a chord. You are a beautiful writer and this post was exceptional. Thank you for the Fred Rogers quote—I really needed that one today for a little boost of my own. You really paid it forward with your childhood experience to giving back the way you helped build this beautiful special needs playground. It is obvious your intention and devotion came from your heart. Thank you for sharing a wonderful story today.

  21. Fantastic work, Beth! It’s not often you hear of someone else with Perthes’ Disease. My hubby also has it and your memories of childhood struck a chord with him. He, too, spent a long time in hospital and extended periods of limited mobility. It must have been terribly hard for you as young children. As adults, I know it’s not always plain sailing, either. Most of the time, he doesn’t have too many problems, but there is always the worry of further degeneration and hospital time as he gets older. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 Sue x

  22. Diane Taylor says:

    And now I am a big puddle of snot and tears…..what a wonderful thing you did Beth. You all did. Last summer a small group of girls from my work and I wanted to do something to honor my son Jonathan’s memory (he passed away suddenly in an apartment fire at age 24). His favorite charity was St Judes. We set to work and one year later, Jonathan’s Blue Herons is born. Right now it is just what we call ourselves but because of the hard work, yard saling, sale-finding, and artistic skills, we have sent homemade cards and bags filled with fun appropriate toys (boys separate from the girls). It made me so proud I cry every time we get together to shop/organize/make cards/stuff our gift bags. I picture those kid’s faces when they get our light up Super hero badges, cars, nail polish, princess sashes, etc….! Just like I picture these kids faces as they get to go outside and play in the sunshine. All because of you :):)

    Well done ladies and gents…..WELL DONE.

    xxoo -Diane

  23. Your story brought me to tears, I would love to find your teacher and throttle her! On a lighter note, what a wonderful job on the playground. There won’t be any tears or frowns on those sweet faces! God Bless

  24. I don’t love your teacher who was shameful to you …how truly very horrible….but what good came out of that. What a blessing you and everyone who helped have become to these children. You (all) are their sunshine. Love.

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