Published 10:11 am Thursday, June 28, 2018

Organizations join forces with county to build first all-inclusive playground


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Jessamine County is well on its way to offering the community its first ever all-inclusive playground.

What started as a vision nearly six months ago by members of the local All Abilities Drama Camp, has now been approved by the county. Fundraising efforts to build an additional playground at the City/County Park has also begun. The proposed playground will cost approximately $300,000.

Thanks to a grant as well as several other donations, 10 percent of the cost has already been raised.

The playground will be fully ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible and will include a double-bay wheelchair swing, an all-accessible merry-go-round and different types of all-inclusive swings for those who are not in a wheelchair but require some support.

“We did some research and got in touch with Crimson (Claycomb, the founder of Kendyl and Friends Foundation) and went to see her playground (in Mercer County),” All Abilities Drama Camp Director Anna Brannen said. “We said, ‘This is it. This is the way to do it.’ Crimson said, ‘You can do this on your own. Go for it. It is a lot of work and you are going to find companies that are not great to work with.’

“Crimson already knows those companies and she knows the grants. This organization that she started is very much the heart of drama camp. It is to make an inclusive study for kids that deserve the same swing a typical kid gets. Crimson said, ‘If you pair with us we’ve got this.’ That is how the dream started.”

After visiting the park with her daughter, Kendyl, who has disabilities, Claycomb, who is also the executive director of Kendyl and Friends Foundation, began her journey to build the second all-inclusive playground in Kentucky a few years ago in Mercer County.

Born a healthy child, Kendyl contracted meningitis at three weeks old, and Claycomb was told her daughter may not live through the night. Kendyl started having seizures and ended up in a coma. At one point, she was pronounced brain dead and was living off machines, and over time has had several hundred thousand micro-mini strokes.

The Claycombs celebrated Kendyl’s seventh birthday last Thanksgiving, and through all the challenges, and although her daughter is confined to a wheelchair, Claycomb said she raised Kendyl to believe she is no different than anybody else.

“She thinks we are all the different ones,” Claycomb said. “She does not understand people are not supposed to be in a wheelchair. Although she is here with us, she is very disabled by the virus. She is non-verbal and requires a wheelchair. She is partially blind in one eye and has seven brain tumors; but, she is literally the happiest kid I have ever met in my entire life. She smiles all the time. That is not an exaggeration.”

When park days turned into Kendyl having to sit on the sidelines and wait for her friends to come to her because her mother could no longer lift her to go on any of the equipment, Claycomb decided it was time to change the playground and not her daughter.

“We walked around the track and I got this idea that I was going to build a fully inclusive playground,” Claycomb said. “I started contacting playground companies, and in five months and 22 days, we had raised $300,000 to build what is now Kendyl and Friends playground in Mercer County. It is an 8,500-square-foot fully-inclusive playground that is open to the public, and it has been visited I can not tell you how many times. Ms. Wheel Chair Kentucky and Ms. Wheel Chair USA have both visited the park.”

Claycomb said she did not let her mission to change the nation’s playgrounds stop there.

Since opening Kendyl and Friends Playground in Mercer County, the organization has been contacted by several other counties enlisting their help to build their own all-inclusive playground. Scott County and Casey County have both reached out for help. And now, so has Jessamine County.

“Shame on us for letting this go so long without addressing the need,” City Commissioner Patty Teater said during a recent Nicholasville City Commission meeting.

Claycomb said an all-inclusive playground for all abilities has been overlooked for a long time. She said people are not being mean or rude, they are just not educated.

“It is very difficult for our kids to be accepted and I think society has taken a little turn and they have become more accepting of children like ours but we are not there just yet and there are so many things that we need to improve on,” Claycomb said. “Almost 1,500 kids (in Jessamine County Schools) from ages 5 to 21 years old (have a disability), that does not count those under five who have not been introduced to the school system, or those over 21 who have phased out. Those numbers are real, traceable and speak volumes.”

Through her company, Claycomb said she has a proven track record of getting things done and seeing playgrounds through from start to finish. Although her plan is not to stop anytime soon.

“If you have something for these kids, I promise their parents are going to bring them,” Claycomb said. “It is a huge blessing to them. It is something they typically do not get to do. If we didn’t have Kendyl and Friends Playground she (Kendyl) would not go to a park because, to me, it is cruel to take her and make her watch her friends. I can promise you this is going to change a lot of lives.”

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