Onsite construction has been taking place since the spring of 2017 at the Mandell JCC in West Hartford for the inclusive playground, ‘Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined.’
By Jackie Palermo
When the original accessible playscape “Jonathan’s Dream” was taken down in 2012, it left a hole in the community, and in those to whom it meant the most. But, with the leadership of Jonathan’s mother, Amy Barzach, and community volunteer Ronit Shoham, along with the overwhelming support of family, friends, community members, and local business, Jonathan’s Dream will soon be able to impact more lives than ever before.
“We’ve got a team of incredible, dedicated workers,” Shoham said. “From the people who are pouring concrete, setting up the equipment, preparing the site,” she said, all effort is greatly appreciated.
“They all know the story,” Shoham explained. “The family turned a tragedy into a positive.” Jonathan’s Dream was “a place to celebrate life.”
Many residents will agree that part of growing up in West Hartford as a child was playing at Jonathan’s dream. “And it is so sad to see it overgrown by nature,” Shoham said.
Barzach told We-Ha.com that “to have seen it used and loved from people and then to see it come down, it was devastating … for five years mother nature had taken over.”
Barzach said she didn’t think she could lead the project to rebuild, and sought out Ronit Shoham to help lead the project and be “the honorary Godmother.”
“I feel that life is starting to pulsate again in the playground,” Shoham explained, adding that every day it seems like love and energy goes into the building the park. “It is very exciting for me and Amy. All the hard work is coming together.”
“This spring, to watch PAC Group start preparations, to see the circle path … the picnic parlour, it is just enthralling,” Barzach explained. “I just drive by and get goosebumps, it’s just so exciting.”
Barzach said that she stopped by a few days ago and saw a monarch butterfly fly into the park. She was so excited, she said, because to parents who have lost children butterflies and dragonflies are such uplifting symbols.
Much exciting progress has taken place within the site. “Most of the hardscape is done, and everyday something new is created,” Shoham said.
Shoham said that they are currently working on an app that narrates the park as you navigate through it. Markings along the perimeter will tell people where they are, as will “ADA bumps” on the path.
“The playground has evolved dramatically,” Barzach said. The new playground is “more accessible than accessible, it’s inclusive.”
One of the best parts of this rebirth is that “all the accommodations are the most popular for all people,” Barzach said. All children will love and use the equipment and be able to play together without restrictions, she said.
An exciting new feature of the park will include equipment for mental health awareness. There will be both a low and high mirror with positive affirmation written around the outside.
Other exciting features include three tree houses, named after the generous donors, which are reminiscent of the old wooden Jonathan’s Dream.
There will be an emoji tic-tac-toe game, and a Buddy Bench that looks different from others, and when sat on, “indicates that the child wants to play with someone,” Shoham explained.
Two support swings will be included, along with a two line zip line, a wheelchair accessible labyrinth, a butterfly chair to take pictures on, and many more exciting features.
There is still much to do, however, in preparation for the grand opening planned for Oct. 22. There are still ways for the community to help and be involved in the project.
One of these ways is through the Community Build scheduled for Sept. 8, 9, and 10. Organizers are looking for around 50 volunteers a day, and those interested in helping should complete this online volunteer registration form. There will also be a Community Planting Day on Oct. 1.
Fundraising is still taking place for Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined and “any amounts in any shapes and forms are very welcome,” Shoham said. About $65,000 still needs to be raised for the project, so any help is greatly appreciated. Please visit http://www.jonathansdreamreimagined.org/ for more information about donations and sponsorship.
Shoham and Barzach are very grateful for the support they have had from the community and businesses in making Jonathan’s Dream Reimagined a reality.
“We are very grateful for Bartaco, who provided tremendous amount of food” for those working at the site, said Shoham. Both Bartaco and Harry’s Pizza Bishops Corner have donated lunches for the workers. David Alan Catering, the Ryan Martin Foundation, and the Hebrew Center will be donating food for the Community Build.
“The very best part of Jonathan’s Dream is it feels like it’s everyone’s playground. Everybody has a sense of ownership over it” Barzach said.
“My favorite thing to do when I go to the park is to sit on a bench and just watch families celebrating life together. It is comfort to my heart. It’s as though Jonathan lives in these families,” Barzach said.
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