An Oneida woman's dream of a playground for special needs children in Oneida and Scott County is on the verge of becoming reality.
If all goes according to plan, the Play With No Boundaries all-inclusive playground that has been almost four years in the planning will be constructed at Oneida City Park in April — giving local special needs children a state-of-the-art place to play by the time warm weather arrives for good this spring.
Amy Martin, the Oneida mother-of-four who spearheaded the effort to raise funds for an all-inclusive playground, said Wednesday that the playground will be ordered in the coming days, with the spring construction timeline already in place.
Due primarily to Martin's determination and the community support she has received, the 5,175 sq. ft. playground will be a state-of-the-art facility rarely seen at small-town municipal parks like Oneida's. In fact, most urban parks do not have playgrounds that can accommodate special needs children.
The playground will consist of a poured rubber surface so that children can navigate safely through the space. The playground will also feature double-wide ramps so that children in wheelchairs will not have to back down to let others pass.
Martin's son, Joseph, is the inspiration behind Play With No Boundaries. Martin said her other three children loved their family trips to the park, but uneven surfaces and conventional playground equipment posed obstacles for Joseph, as well as for other children like him.
It was while watching a special needs child swing for the first time at an all-inclusive playground that Martin realized there was no reason her son and other special needs children in Scott County could not play without boundaries, and the mission to build the all-inclusive playground was born.
After obtaining approval from the Town of Oneida to replace the park's seldom-used volleyball court with a special needs playground, Martin and some of her closest friends engaged in a campaign to raise more than $170,000.
"What started as a personal mission for me became a community mission," Martin said once of the support of the community.
After roadblocks, t-shirt sales and various other fundraisers, Martin announced last fall that PWNB had broken the $100,000 fundraising plateau, a milestone that once might have seemed almost impossible.
Martin said Wednesday that PWNB will continue to hold fundraisers to retire the remaining debt on the playground, including a "denim and diamonds" dinner that is being planned for early May. Six-to-eight vendors are currently being sought to make the event a "shopping and dining" night for ladies.
Additionally, Martin said that a number of individuals, organizations and businesses have stepped forward to help make the playground a reality. Oneida businessman Steve Stanley and Stanley Building will donate their time to do all of the excavating work at the playground site, and the Big South Fork Saddle Club is planning a Valentine's Day dance on Feb. 15, with proceeds to benefit the playground. The Scott County Chamber of Commerce and Christy Harness, who heads up CASA of the Tennessee Heartland in Scott County, have teamed up for chocolate-covered strawberry sales for Valentine's Day, the proceeds of which will also benefit the playground.
T-shirts are still being sold, at $15 each, and engraved bricks can be purchased for $100. The bricks will be used to pave a "Walk of Thanks" that will serve as the entrance to the playground. Anyone wishing to contribute can contact Martin at 423-569-2366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This playground will not only give special needs children a safe place to play but will give all children the opportunity to develop self-respect and respect for others through the universal language of play," Martin said.