The final piece has slid into place for a baseball field and playground for children with special needs.
Earlier this month, the state awarded $350,000 to the Partnership to Build a Miracle, which has been raising money for the $1 million project for two and a half years. With the $350,000 grant, the nonprofit can start construction.
“The grant was always part of our capital-campaign plan,” said Chris Key, campaign chairman. “Without it, we’d have had probably another two years of capital campaigning. With it, we went from ‘We hope to build a park’ to ‘We are going to build a park and a ball field.’”
The park and ball field will be next to Community Park on Booker Dairy Road. The facilities will be inclusive, Key said, meaning children with special needs will be able to play with siblings who don’t have special needs. For instance, a swing set will have typical swings next to swings for children in wheelchairs.
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The ball field, for baseball and softball, will have a rubber surface so that kids in wheelchairs and walkers can play. Also, all walkways within the park will be wide enough for wheelchairs and walkers. The park will have a wind-chime garden for the visually impaired and a pine thicket where autistic children can calm down if they feel overwhelmed while playing.
The $350,000 comes from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Key said 64 projects applied for about $17 million; 17 won a total of $4.1 million.
To apply, Key and his fellow fund-raisers first needed matching funds. That’s why, earlier this year, they asked the county for $100,000, which commissioners awarded. Key’s group has raised another $375,000 in donations and pledges from private sources and smaller grants.
That leaves the campaign $175,000 short of its $1 million goal, a target Key still hopes to hit. If not, the park and ball field will move forward but with fewer features.
Smithfield applied for the grant on behalf of the nonprofit and will use its staff to administer the money.
Tim Johnson, Smithfield’s retiring parks and recreation director, said the park and ball field will be a feather in the town’s hat. “It’s probably one of the best things that Smithfield will have ever done,” he said, “because there aren’t many places that can say they have facilities like these to serve their the people in their communities.”
Depending on when the state releases the money, construction could start as early as August, Key said. In the meantime, he is looking for in-kind donations, including materials and labor.
Key said he teared up when he learned the state had awarded the grant. “The good thing is these kids and their families will have somewhere to play six months from now,” he said. The school system knows of at least 4,500 special-needs kids in the county, he noted.
“The fact that we’ve raised the money and are going to be able to build it just states again how generous and supportive of a community we live in in Johnston County,” Key said.
An unintended beneficiary of the park will be seniors, Key said. He’s hearing from seniors who say the park will allow grandparents to play with grandchildren. Seniors often face some of the same mobility hurdles as children with special needs, Key noted.
For more information, visit partnershiptobuildamiracle.com.