Midtown: Community

Raleigh couple plans special place for special kids

Kandice and Mike Bannerman searched for years for a place to take their 5-year-old son to play on weekends.

No luck – ever.

Michael has special needs. A seizure disorder that surfaced when he was 5 1/2 months old left its mark of severe cognitive delays. Physically, though, Michael is a typically rambunctious boy.

Imagine one of the popular big-box playlands or any neighborhood playground. Imagine, too, the impossibility of amusing a child already unsteady on his feet with games too tough for his understanding, all in a space squeezed by people, things and noise.

“Those places are geared toward typical children; they’re the larger percentage of children in our society,” said Kandice, 32, a graduate of Meredith College. “I get why it’s that way. It’s just not OK.”

Rather than lament and complain, the Bannermans last year created a nonprofit organization, Someone Special Like Me. Their mission: to build a state-of-the-art, membership-based play facility for special needs children in the Triangle.

The family-friendly space will host activities that teach and stimulate children with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities. There also will be a space for children without disabilities.

“You can poison yourself and die if you sit in your house and complain about things that don’t work,” Kandice said. “God planted the idea in me: We need a place that is special like Michael.”

The Midtown couple will host the second annual Someone Special Like Me 5K and Family Fun Day on May 25 at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Registration is open until the day of the event.

Not a runner? Me either. No worries, though. We can walk, or participate as vendors, sponsors or donors.

Last year’s inaugural event attracted 500 participants and raised $10,000, Kandice said.

The Bannermans plan to use the proceeds from this year’s 5K to open a smaller-scale concept facility in July. Kandice said they’ve consulted with doctors, teachers, therapists and parents.

“The response has been overwhelming,” she said. “People are like, ‘We need it now!’ And I need it now, too.”

The Bannermans envision a place with floors covered by foam, and a space with big pillows and soft things to lie on, perfect for children to be freed from wheelchairs to play and chill.

There also will be an area equipped with light boards and tactile objects for children who have sensory needs, and a low-light area for those who’d rather avoid bright lights and sounds.

Also part of the plan: toys and balls and a touch-screen video system, and inner tube-style swings so children who need to lie on their backs or sides can still enjoy the ride.

There will be a large, open play area for energetic children to rip and run.

Mike Bannerman believes Someone Special Like Me will fill a void. It will give children like Michael a place to play, relax and “be himself without us having to hold him back or worry he’s not safe.”

“As a child, some of our fondest memories are of playing and having fun,” said Mike, 35. “It’s the same for special needs children.”

It can’t happen soon enough for Tori Smith. Like me, Smith connected with Kandice through Facebook, where Smith posts about her son, Bryce, who has autism.

“I immediately fell in love with the concept because it is exactly what I have been looking for for my son,” said Smith, 40. “It would be life-changing.”

Although 7-year-old Bryce is nonverbal, and has frequent seizures, he likes to play, just like his twin sister, Taylor.

“Someone Special Like Me would be a major bridge in our lives for him to reach that level of being as close as possible to a normal-playing child,” Smith said. “For parents with children with special needs, there’s nothing simple about that. There are no small obstacles for us. Everything is major.”