The CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation and the City of Alexandria, Louisiana have joined forces to create the Coughlin Saunders Inclusive Playground to bring joy to the lives of children with special needs across Alexandria and surrounding communities.
The project is privately funded thanks to the support of donors through the Cabrini Foundation. Named for one of the largest supporters of the project, the Coughlin Saunders Inclusive Playground Park, will feature swings as well as a special-needs playground structure in honor of the families of the Pediatric Therapy Center at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital. “Our goal is to not only provide a place for the special needs families in our community, but to also be able to hold therapy sessions for the Pediatric Therapy Center onsite at the playground when possible.” said Lauren Guillory, Manager of the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Pediatric Therapy Center.
Thanks to the generosity of City of Alexandria, a section of Bringhurst Stadium has been donated to house this new playground at the corner of Ball Park Way and Masonic Drive. This location is ideal for parents and children, as it is within walking distance to the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Pediatric Therapy Center. Construction of the park has already begun by Majestic Playgrounds of Baton Rouge.
Rachel Sasser, Rapides Parish School board’s Special Education department spokesperson said, “Some of the children in our parish that have severe mobility issues have possibly never been able to experience a playground like this. Our parish as a whole is trying to be more inclusive with what we do, so being able to add this facility and the social aspects it brings to our community is wonderful.” Sasser is also a mother of three, and her middle child – almost 7-year-old Maddox – has been a patient of the Pediatric Therapy Clinic since he was just a few months old. “Maddox has severe cerebral palsy, and is completely wheelchair-bound, so our family is so excited about this playground,” said Sasser. “It is a place that Maddox can go but also a place that all three of my kids can go and play and have fun, together.”
“CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital is one of only 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across North America,” said Ashley Walker, Executive Director of Development
CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation. “As such, we are tasked with not only identifying the pediatric needs of our community, but meeting those needs by every means necessary.” When asked how we could best serve these families, the Pediatric Therapy team has consistently suggested a public special-needs-inclusive playground, because until now, the closest one is more than an hour-and-a-half away in Lafayette.”
The Coughlin Saunders Inclusive Playground is expected to open to the public October 8.
“The Central Louisiana community has a staggering number of children with special needs, all of whom require some version of care,” said Guillory. “In Rapides Parish alone, there are more than 3,300 children with special needs between the ages of 5 and 18, with almost 3,000 more in Avoyelles, Grant, Natchitoches, Allen and Winn Parishes. This type of playground can provide the necessary fun, challenges, and stimulation that children with special needs require. For the first time in our community, these children will be able to be included in playground fun which will bolster self-esteem, confidence and social engagement in the way that a private therapy session cannot.”
The elements included in the structure were hand-picked by Pediatric Therapy experts to specifically cater to children with physical disabilities, autism, cognitive impairment and sensory processing disorders; the most prevalent special needs in the area. The design includes physical, social-emotional, sensory, cognitive and communication components that support the development of the whole child. There are also slide transfer decks (for wheel chair users), a sensory wave climber (that caters to children with autism and sensory processing disorders), a Rock N Raft with wheel chair access, a roller slide, a sensory wave seat and several musical elements. There is also a swing set with multiple types of swings accessible to children with any and all abilities.
“This project is 100-percent donor funded and will be a donation from the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation to the City of Alexandria in honor of the children of the CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Pediatric Therapy Center,” said Robert Weeks, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Foundation board member and City Representative. “We are so proud to be a part of this project and to be able to donate the space where this longtime dream will become a reality.”