Behind the Walker County Civic Center stands a playground long forgotten. Built over 15 years ago, there now resides a rusty wheelchair swing, equipment that's slowly becoming uprooted from the ground, and generally unmaintained grounds.
Hannah Funderburk, her husband, Alex, and their 2-year-old son, Balian, moved to LaFayette this summer to be closer to family. They stumbled upon the decaying playground in mid-August. What took their breath away was the sign that read "Northwest Georgia Special Needs Park."
It was at an inclusive playground in North Carolina where Balian, who has spina bifida and hydrocephalus, took his first steps without assistance. Hannah Funderburk said that the inclusive playground gave Balian, who used a walker at the time, the courage and strength to walk on his own.
"We took him [to the park] every day when he started to use a walker," she said. "We'd practice strength training and physical therapy. He also had the opportunity to meet other children of all abilities and was able to educate not only the children, but the parents, too."
Seeing the broken-down park in her new hometown lit something within her. She contacted PlayCore, a Chattanooga-based playground equipment company that last year granted Georgia $2 million to build inclusive playgrounds. While the company doesn't offer that grant anymore, representatives still wanted to help, Funderburk said.
Based on videos and photos she sent, PlayCore noted that the facility does not follow guidelines established under the Americans with Disabilities Act and does not meet safety codes for inclusive playgrounds.
A few days later, on Aug. 22, Funderburk attended the Walker County Commissioner meeting to raise public attention. She said that for the park to be inclusive, it must have ramps, be wheelchair accessible and be safe.
Although Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield agreed with Funderburk and wanted to help, he couldn't commit the county financially, he said.
Whitfield has since gotten the sign designating it as a special needs part taken down, said Funderburk, but she isn't giving up on the park's rehabilitation.
As it stands now, the closest park the family can take Balian to is in Chattanooga. A 50-minute drive each way can be too much some days, she said, and it breaks her heart to say no when her young son asks to go to the park.
"Kids with disabilities have a right to be in the same spaces with physically abled kids," said Funderburk.
With the help of PlayCore, grants and community support, Walker County could be the first spot in all of Georgia to have an inclusive playground with National Demonstration Site of Excellence designation, which would have it listed on a national registry of parks.
"When families are looking for places to live, they can go to the internet and find a demonstration site in Georgia, and ours will be the first and only one in the state. It could put Walker County on the map for families of all abilities," Funderburk said.
The park's overhaul will cost about $500,000. She's eyeballing a specific grant to make it happen, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program Grant, but needs to raise 25% of the project, or $125,000, to be considered.
Funderburk unveiled the schematics of PlayCore's plans for the park at an event on Oct. 11 and is hosting another unveiling Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the Walker County Civic Center at 6:30 p.m.
"People are blind to those with disabilities," she said. "I want to let people hear my story and see our vision and raise awareness."
For more information or to donate, visit gofundme.com/f/allinclusive-park.
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.