GOSHEN — Kerry’s Kids Playground in Goshen opened Thursday as the first park in the city designed to be fully inclusive.

“We really tried to create an area that is great for anyone,” Stutsman said.

The structure is built in such a way that anyone using a wheelchair or walker can get to any area of the playground. Rubberized flooring and ramp entry at all elevated sections of the structure encourage accessibility. There are also auditory structures and climbing walls.

“We even have some equipment in here that you can climb into to be in your own little world that way if crowds make you nervous you have somewhere to be that you can have fun.”

It is the first of the 29 parks in the city of Goshen to be fully accessible.

“This park is really exciting for Goshen because it’s our first inclusive park,” Stutsman said. “We wanted to make this for any child regardless of what their ability level was.”

The idea was spawned from a letter written by Laura Elliott, a Goshen High School student who recognized that her friends struggled to play at local parks due to being wheelchair-bound or having other handicaps that made traditional playgrounds hazardous.

“After one of my presentations (on the playground), I had a gentleman who was wheelchair bound in his 70s come up to me in tears,” Stutsman said. “He said he was so excited for this park because it will be the first time he’d be able to go to the park with his grandkids. That’s when we realized this park would be for all abilities and all ages.”

Last school year, Elliott received the Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability Award for her letter and advocacy toward the special needs community in Goshen. During the awards ceremony, Elliott was presented with a trophy and a $10,000 donation for the Goshen Parks and Recreation Department to help fund the completion of the playground

The Kerry Finnigan Rupright Foundation, the foundation created by Rick and Marlene Finnegan known as Kerry’s Kids, was the main donor for the playground, and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County granted $50,000 for the work. The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority also donated. Crowdfunding also proved successful.

“Not only did we meet but we exceeded our goal for (crowdfunding) and what that means for us is that this playground is a fully supported project by the community,” Goshen park’s superintendent Tanya Heyde said.

The park cost was nearly $1 million, including improvements to Hay Park’s utilities, landscape and parking areas.

“I know that Laura is very excited to watch her friends and to have playdates with her friends here,” Rochelle Elliott, Laura’s mother, said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning.

A bench at the park has been named in Laura’s honor, and in honor of her late father, Rusty, who died in March 2018 before the project could be completed.

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