An Equal Playing Field
Steps towards greater inclusion are happening in Brentwood. The City of Brentwood and the Brentwood Rotary Club Charitable Foundation are partnering to build two inclusive playgrounds in the city parks. The first park will be located at Granny White Park, and if they raise enough funding, a second will be built at Crockett Park. If you are unfamiliar with an inclusive playground, it is a place where all children of all abilities can play and have a similar experience. In addition, families can play together while spending quality time with ALL members of the family.
The theme of this campaign is Building Inclusion and Character. Brentwood needs this type of playground because inclusive playgrounds “promote acceptance and diversity in our children while allowing all families the opportunity to enjoy time together. As a result, people with special needs who often feel ignored and excluded can feel safe and comfortable.”
This project was first introduced when a mother in Brentwood, Cory Hardwick, contacted the City about creating an inclusive playground. She was looking for a place where her son, Hank, can play and feel included while doing so. Cory emailed the City, and they got back to her with multiple location options, but it became evident that there is no place like Brentwood. Since then, she has been a champion for this program and advocates for her children and many others.
Leigh Williams, the fundraising committee chair, knows first-hand the importance of bringing this type of inclusion to the City of Brentwood. Leigh’s daughter, Maddox, had down syndrome and a heart defect, but she loved everybody she came into touch with. Maddox was a student at the early childhood program at Crockett Elementary School, where she just loved to spread joy. Unfortunately, Maddox passed away in July of 2019. When people ask Leigh why this playground is so necessary, she says, “when Maddox walked onto the playground, the limitations that are put on people who have any challenge disappeared. With an inclusive playground, we have so many people who are viewed in other ways. There’s a sweet innocence about walking into a place and everyone being on the same level.” She went on to explain how children with disabilities often feel left out when going to a playground, “there was a little girl who Maddox was friends with, and she had a muscular deficiency. I was talking with her mother and told her we were working on the project. We have a little playground pals’ group for people who are advocating with us and helping us in the promotion. Layla’s mother said to me that when her two boys want to play on the playground, she always tries to find excuses because she knows that if the one swing that Layla can swing on is not available, she’ll have to watch everybody else have fun from her stroller. She was excited because her kids could finally play together.” Leigh is a part of this team because of Maddox and her legacy.
Jodi Rall, the marketing committee chair, was the fundraising chair for Brentwood’s 50th Celebration Parade. Jodi and Leigh have worked together in many different capacities, but this project is very close to Jodi’s heart. She is a mother of four, and she has a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and another child with learning disabilities. Jodi described that “there are many components of this playground that are going to be for sensory issues, for children with autism –stimulated by color or touch.”
Additionally, Jodi is a volunteer for Full Circle at the Brentwood YMCA, and her son went through the program when it first started. She is “amazed by how many children this program has served.” Her part in this program is to “provide equal opportunity for families to go to a playground and play.”
The Brentwood Rotary Club Charitable Foundation is spearheading this fundraising campaign. Jodi is a member of the Noon Rotary. She communicates that “Rotarians are about service above self. “Everything we do is about character. So many passionate people are working on this with us, and it’s not about Leigh or me. It’s all of us. Everyone is choosing their talents to make this happen. We want to get our why out there. Our why is to remember Maddox, to serve children like Hank, and to serve all families in Williamson County and other counties,” says Jodi.
The fundraising goal for this project is two million dollars. They are on track to meet this goal, but they still need help from the community. The Granny White location is paid for, and they have a significant donor that will name the playground.
The groundbreaking for the Granny White location is tentatively set for September or October of this year. Once that is finished, they will be in the planning stages for the Crockett Park location. The Rotary Club is doing this as a group with the City of Brentwood. The City came up with most of the funds for the first park at Granny White. However, with the Rotary’s fundraising initiative, the project is moving a lot faster. Crockett Park was on the docket for three to four years out, and because of what the rotary club is doing, there’s a possibility that both playgrounds will be ready for use within two years.