There’s a popular new playground calling kids’ names these days from sun up to sunset every day. And it has a very special name of its own: Owen’s Playground for Children of All Abilities. Find it at Hillcrest School in Downers Grove.
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The story behind the playground is just as special:
On his first day of first grade, Owen Chaidez was terrified. And not for the usual reasons. Although his elementary school worked hard to adapt the inside of the building for his wheelchair and other needs, the outside was a different story. On the playground, trying to play just like the other kids, Owen’s chair got stuck, and when the bell rang, he found himself trapped and all alone.
“I told him, ‘I’ll find a way this will never happen again,’” says his mom, Peg Chaidez, who believes the inclusive universally designed playground will help the entire community of Downers Grove.
Chaidez partnered with Sharon Duncan of Abide In Me to help take the idea from paper to reality. It opened just a few weeks ago after years of work and dreaming.
Owen is showing everyone his mettle, too. Born with Arthrogryposis, with his legs like a pretzel, doctors warned he would never walk. It was just one thing on doctors’ long list of nevers for Owen.
Now 9, Owen is learning to walk distances, with his sights set on racing with his mom. “It’s just amazing to see. He is so proud that he can do this,” Chaidez says.
“I understand now when people say what a blessing it is to have a child with special needs because my life has been so different. I’ve had so many experiences I wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have Owen. It just changed my whole perspective, the way I approach other people, different situations.”
Chaidez and Owen, who wants to be a paleontologist like his hero Philip J. Currie, couldn’t give up on the playground, even when things looked grim, something Chaidez learned when Owen was born.
“People tell you that it will be hard (with a child with special needs), just like having kids is always going to be struggle, but until you are in it and living it every day, you have to have that mindset that you can’t quit. You can’t say ‘this is too much, I can’t do it.’ This is what moms do, this is what parents do. We work together, we find a way.”
The playground hosted a back-to-school picnic recently. “So much fun to see kids of all abilities playing,” she says.