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Billy Crystal Will Host Event to Benefit Jonathan's Dream

Renowned performer Billy Crystal has a show scheduled at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre, and in conjunction with that will appear at a special reception on March 25 in support of the completion of Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined in West Hartford.

Billy Crystal. Courtesy photo

Billy Crystal. Courtesy photo

By Ronni Newton

Billy Crystal – yes, THE Billy Crystal – will help make the new Jonathan’s Dream playground in West Hartford a reality by hosting a pre- and post-show reception in conjunction with  his performance at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford.

When Jonathan’s Dream founder Amy Barzach learned that Billy Crystal has a scheduled show in the area she got an idea, “Dream Team” Coordinator Ronit Shoham said.

“Billy Crystal’s wife is Amy’s cousin,” Shoham explained. Barzach called her cousin, Janice Goldfinger Crystal – who has been married to the renowned actor and comedian since 1970 – and asked if Crystal would do a reception as a fundraiser for Jonathan’s Dream. Crystal agreed.

The event at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Walllingford begins at 6 p.m. on March 25 with a reception. Guests will enjoy a private “red carpet” entrance and appetizers, wine, and beer will be served. They will be given VIP event lanyards and have the opportunity to bid on silent auction items.  

A dessert reception, which will be attended by Crystal, will follow the 8 p.m. show.

The $275 event cost includes tickets to the show as well as both receptions. Additional sponsorship opportunities, as well as information on how to purchase tickets, can be found by clicking here.

Courtesy Jonathan's Dream Reimagined

Courtesy Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined

It has been nearly four years since Jonathan’s Dream, the country’s first “boundless playground,” had to be torn down due to wear and tear. Planning for a replacement playground – Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined  – began almost immediately and will soon turn from dream to reality.

Shoham said that the new playground will cost $1.2 million, and all but $170,000 has been raised. “We’re hoping that this event will give the fundraising a big closer,” she said.

Shoham said that all of the equipment has been ordered for the state-of-the art inclusive “Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined” playground which will be accessible to all children, including the visually impaired. It was designed by Los Angeles-based Shane’s Inspiration as engaging and inclusive for all.

A ground breaking is scheduled for April 9 on the site behind the Mandell JCC where the original playground once stood. Shoham said that construction will take place between April and June, with a “community build” planned for June. More than 1,000 community volunteers helped construct the original Jonathan’s Dream, and the Dream Team wanted to create a similar experience for the new playground.

Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined should be ready for use by the end of June, and will have a “soft opening” throughout the summer and a grand opening in September, after Labor Day and once the landscaping can be completed.

The original Jonathan’s Dream opened in 1996. The equipment was wooden, and was designed to be wheelchair inclusive. It was the inspiration of Barzach and her husband Peter, and the legacy the family created to honor their son, Jonathan, who was diagnosed with the degenerative neuromuscular disorder Spinal Muscular Atrophy and sadly died before his first birthday.

Had he lived, Jonathan would have been confined to a wheelchair, and Barzach never forgot a moment, before her son’s diagnosis, when she had noticed a young girl in a wheelchair sadly watching other children on the playground. Following the success of the innovative Jonathan’s Dream concept, Barzach went on to found and serve as executive director of the non-profit Boundless Playgrounds, building accessible playgrounds in more than 200 communities.

Twenty years later, new materials have been created and there has been an evolution in what accessibility means. Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined will be much more than just wheelchair accessible, and will include elements such as a roller slide that children with cochlear implants can use (a regular slide can short-circuit the device), a Buddy Bench to encourage empathy and foster friendship among children using the playground, and “Kevin’s Kourt” – an accessible basketball court supported by a donation from UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie.

Other features will include zip lines, a track surrounding the playground, swings, and quiet areas.

Donations can be made online to Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined through its website by clicking here. More information is also available on the Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined Facebook page.

To purchase tickets for the Billy Crystal event, click here.

Anyone with questions about the playground or the event can contact Ronit Shoham at [email protected] or 860-558-5313.

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