When 10-year-old Taylor would go to the local park in Bellflower, she could only watch as her 8-year-old sister, Sadie, enjoyed herself on the swings, seesaw and other playground equipment.
Born with a heart condition and diagnosed with Hydrocephalus at a year old, Taylor suffered brain damage, which affected her body. She only began walking in October 2013. Romping around on playground equipment with her sister, it seemed, was a dream that seemed out of reach.
Then, in March of 2014, that dream came true.
Funded by First 5 LA’s Tot Parks and Trails program, a new playground opened in Bellflower’s Thompson Park catering to children up to age 5 and kids with special needs, like Taylor. The tot park features a new AeroGlider, swings, spinner, climbing tunnel and play structure.
“This is the first time the girls have been able to play on park equipment together and they love it”- Ashley Saez
“This is the first time the girls have been able to play on park equipment together and they love it,” said their mother, Ashley Saez. “Taylor loves the special swing at the park. It's a wide chair/seat and has a safety harness that holds her in. She laughs and squeals with excitement when in the swing. Sadie loves to push her on the swing while singing and playing games with her.”
When she is too tired to walk, Taylor can ride in her wheelchair directly into the handicap accessible AeroGlider, which provides a seesaw sensation.
“Sadie loves to make the AeroGlider rock back and forth for Taylor and make Taylor laugh,” their mother said.
While the Saez family enjoys Thompson Park’s new playground equipment, First 5 LA continues to open new tot parks and trails for children 0-5 and their families. So far, 28 such parks have opened in Los Angeles County since the $10 million project began, including three new parks in three Best Start Communities within the past month: Watson Pocket Park in Wilmington, Avalon and Gage Park in Los Angeles and the Wellness Center Outdoor Park and Fitness Trail in Los Angeles.
“The Avalon and Gage Park will serve over 25,000 children under the age of 5 within a two-mile radius,” said Karen Robertson-Fall, First 5 LA program officer. “It’s the largest number of children to be served by this project. There is no other park within 15 miles of this park. It’s in South Los Angeles where there is no green space for miles.”
“The Watson Pocket Park in Wilmington now features a new playground especially designed for families with young children and will directly benefit nearly 6,000 children under the age of 5 that live within just a two-mile radius of the park,” said First 5 LA Best Start Program Officer Marcella Manzanedo.
Support for the parks has also come from the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, various Los Angeles City Council offices, The Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, and several private and public institutions.
“Working collaboratively, we can promote more physical activity with play spaces like these, and help children maintain a healthy weight,” Robertson-Fall said. “But to meet this challenge we must have partnerships. First 5 LA has contracted with seven contractors to lead community planning meetings in cities large and small, and created a sustainability plans with local park and recreation districts.”
By the end of the project this June, seven more tot parks will open, Robertson-Fall said.
Saez, who likes to take her daughters to Thompson Park once a week, said the new playground helped her feel like part of a community.
“I grew up in Bellflower and it makes me so proud and grateful of our city for thinking about families like mine when updating and making improvements to the city,” Saez said. “It's truly meaningful to feel included.”