LAKE ST. LOUIS, Mo. Knowing the gospel plan and that families can be forever makes it easier to cope with the challenges of having a child with a disability, according to Natalie Blakemore of the O'Fallon Ward, St. Louis Missouri North Stake.
But for her, it is still important to make life as fun and enjoyable for her son Zach as she can during the time she has him on earth. To that end, she is driven to make it possible for Zach and others with disabilities to enjoy playgrounds just as much as any other child.
Zach, 6, suffers from the rare disease Pelizaeus-Merbacher, a disorder of the central nervous system that causes deterioration of motor and intellectual functions.
As other children enjoyed playgrounds, because of his physical limitations, Zach was relegated to the sidelines, his mother said. All he could do was watch.
About four years ago, during a trip to Virginia, Sister Blakemore and her husband, Todd, saw a playground that was accessible for children such as Zach. Sister Blakemore said that got her thinking about building something similar in the backyard of their home. "Then I felt like God wanted it to be bigger than that," she added during a Church News telephone interview.
With that motivation, more than three years ago Sister Blakemore founded Unlimited Play (Web site: www.unlimitedplay.org), a nonprofit organization to raise funds for the special playgrounds.
She said her family felt lonely when they first found out Zach had a disability, like they were the only ones. "But when we started Unlimited Play, we found out there are a lot a children who need this."
Her tireless efforts are paying off with the construction of "Zachary's Playground" in Lake St. Louis near the Blakemore's home.
The challenge to raise nearly a million dollars to get the playground done was daunting. "It turned out to be more like a full-time job," Sister Blakemore said. But she spoke of generous people and cooperative government entities who helped along the way. She said NFT Industries donated a considerable amount of money to Auburn University to be used to develop playground equipment that could be used by children, including those with disabilities. But most of the money for the playground, she continued, came from small donations from individuals.
Recently, many people, including several members of the Church, participated in a community project to construct and assemble parts of the playground.
By expanding her love and concern for her son, the playground will be a joy for all children, with or without disabilities. She's sure Zach and his little sisters, Brianna and Cassie, will also enjoy playing there.
It has many features. In an e-mail, Sister Blakemore said, "Our playground includes ramps throughout the entire structure, to the top of every slide and a rubberized surfacing that allows everyone, even those with wheelchairs and walkers, to get throughout the entire playground. The water-play section is there because often, children with disabilities, including my son, have a difficult time regulating their temperature. The ability to cool off will allow them to stay out and play longer."
There are climbing nets and a saucer swing that children can lie down in. Bumps along the ground guide sight-impaired children to equipment. And there is an amphitheater.
Sister Blakemore said when she saw the playground in Virginia, she was impressed that "someone thought of me and my child." Now many other families with children with disabilities will realize that she thought of them.