All-inclusive playground in Cedar Rapids is 'gift to the community'

Variety-the Children's Charity dedicates structure in Noelridge Park

Aiden Babka, 12, of North Liberty and his father Jim Babka press buttons at an interactive station in the new all-inclusive playground at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Aiden has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair or a special bike to get around. The inclusive playground is the first in Cedar Rapids and features play elements that accessible to children and adults with varying levels of physical ability. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Aiden Babka, 12, of North Liberty and his father Jim Babka press buttons at an interactive station in the new all-inclusive playground at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Aiden has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair or a special bike to get around. The inclusive playground is the first in Cedar Rapids and features play elements that accessible to children and adults with varying levels of physical ability. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The sun was shining Thursday morning on the gleaming new playground equipment in Noelridge Park. Dozens of parents and children gathered around as a group of officials from the city and Variety-the Children’s Charity dedicated the equipment.

The kids could barely contain their excitement as they waited for the grown-ups to finish talking so they could run up and down the 9,600-square-foot blue and green playground, slide down the slide and spin around on the plastic whirl.

But this playground is unlike any other in the city — it has ramps, special swings and a rubber surface so children who need wheelchairs or walkers to get around can play alongside their friends.

“It was a labor of love,” said Sheri McMichael, executive director of Variety-the Children’s Charity. It took the not-for-profit, which works with special needs and at-risk children, three years to raise $475,000 and build the second all-inclusive playground in the state of Iowa.

All-inclusive playgrounds are important McMichael said because they bring children together and get them outside moving. The playground is a challenge for kids with and without special needs, she said, and will bring families together.

“Kids forget that maybe this other kid doesn’t walk like me or talk like me,” McMichael said. The playground also gives parents or grandparents with mobility challenges a chance to play with their children, she added.

Kids like Aiden Babka, 12. Aiden was born with a heart defect, said his mother, Beth, and suffered a stroke during one of his surgeries. He has cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair since he could learn to walk.

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“He still wants to play,” Beth Babka said. “But before, if we went to a park he either just sits and watches or mom has to carry him up there.”

A task that is getting more and more difficult the older and bigger he grows. Babka and her husband, Jim, said they are thankful Aiden can now be involved.

“We really wanted to give a gift to the community,” McMichael said.

Hall-Perrine Foundation, Transamerica Foundation, Wellmark Foundation and the Diamond V Fund contributed to the playground, along with countless community members, officials said. The only other all-inclusive playground in Iowa is in Des Moines’ Ewing Park.

Noelridge Park is located in northeast Cedar Rapids. It is bordered by Collins Road NE to the north, 42nd Street NE to the south, Council Street NE to the west and Golf Street NE to the east.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett was among those who spoke during Thursday’s dedication ceremony.

“We had a void in our community and you helped fill that void,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8331; chelsea.keenan@thegazette.com

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