• Post opens barrier-free playground

  • Four-year-old Emely DeLeon’s smile couldn’t get any bigger when her mom swung her high into the air.

    Maria DeLeon said her daughter Emely has a disorder called microcephaly, in which the size of her head is smaller than normal, causing many issues with brain development. At 4, Emely is just learning to walk, but is mostly confined to a wheelchair. Because of this, Emely can’t use most of the playground equipment on Fort Leavenworth. DeLeon, whose husband Staff Sgt. Dario DeLeon is serving an unaccompanied tour in Korea, said she would put Emely in the toddler-style swings, but was afraid to swing Emely too high for fear she would fall. If DeLeon had a second adult along, she could lift Emely up the slide and let her go down into another adult’s arms.


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  • Four-year-old Emely DeLeon’s smile couldn’t get any bigger when her mom swung her high into the air.
    Maria DeLeon said her daughter Emely has a disorder called microcephaly, in which the size of her head is smaller than normal, causing many issues with brain development. At 4, Emely is just learning to walk, but is mostly confined to a wheelchair. Because of this, Emely can’t use most of the playground equipment on Fort Leavenworth. DeLeon, whose husband Staff Sgt. Dario DeLeon is serving an unaccompanied tour in Korea, said she would put Emely in the toddler-style swings, but was afraid to swing Emely too high for fear she would fall. If DeLeon had a second adult along, she could lift Emely up the slide and let her go down into another adult’s arms.
    But that was it — and the DeLeons had little reason to visit parks on post — until Fort Leavenworth’s Exceptional Family Member Program and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation opened a park just for children like Emily.
    The new park opened April 26 behind the Post Theatre on Grant Avenue, called “barrier free” because it is designed specifically for children with disabilities. The park does have a fence around the perimeter to prevent children with autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit disorders from becoming a flight risk. Currently, staff at Fort Leavenworth intend to keep the park open during daylight hours. Parental supervision is strongly suggested. To open the gate, lift the small round black button on the outside of the fence to open the latch. There is another gate on the north side of the park facing Infantry Barracks.
    With a pricetag of more than $350,000, getting the park built was not an easy task. Col. Wayne Green, Garrison commander, said funding came from multiple sources. Planning had been going on for years, before Green came to Fort Leavenworth in 2009. Green said EFMP’s manager, Jennifer Burford, was to thank for creating the project and pushing it through to completion.
    “It happened largely because of the vision and dream of Jennifer Burford … your EFMP reps care very much for your families,” Green said.
    Rodney Born, representative for Cunningham Recreation in Olathe, Kan., the company that designed and built much of the equipment in the park, said he believes it may be the largest one of its kind in the Midwest.
    Features of the park include:
    • Ground surface entirely covered in rubber tiles, intended to reduce risk of injury and makes it easier for children using mobility equipment.
    • Custom-made Kansas-themed bison, teepee and keel boat designed for children to climb and play upon. The bottom part of the boat is set at ground level for children in wheelchairs, and there are steps leading to a slide. Born said the bison is a tribute to Kansas, the teepee is a tribute to Sacagawea and the boat is a tribute to Lewis and Clark.
    • Toadstool-style balancing toys.
    • Noisemaking and musical toys.
    • Harness swings with high backs. There are two sizes for smaller and larger children.
    • A connected fort is the largest piece of equipment, with five slides. The fort has no steps, but is ramped for children using mobility equipment. The walls are decorated with the American Sign Language alphabet, how to say “hello” in six languages, tic-tac-toe games, steering wheels and other toys. There’s also a small fireman’s pole, small rock-climbing wall, horizontal handlebars and vertical handlebars firmly secured to the ground.
    • Shade umbrellas, benches and picnic tables for parents and family members.
    Page 2 of 2 - Maj. David Briten, a student in the 2012-02 Intermediate Level Education class at the Command and General Staff College, brought his children, Bryan, 4, and Ethan, 11, to the park. Ethan has attention deficit disorder.
    “Hopefully it will help tire him out,” Briten said. “This is the best children’s play facility we’ve been at. We couldn’t wait for it to open.”
    The Exceptional Family Member Program has several upcoming events on post for special needs children, including a Special Olympics Young Athletes day June 2 and a day camp, Camp Soar, June 5-7. Call the EFMP office at 684-2871 for more information.