Once Oksana Loraine could only watch as other children her age used the swings at a playground. Loraine, 12, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheel chair.
“She couldn’t play with the other kids,” her mother, Erin, said. But that has changed thanks to a special playground in Cottleville.
Oksana can now swing to her heart’s content, just like the other kids using McAuley’s Playground. That’s what the playground was designed to do – provide a place where all children can play together, regardless of their physical abilities.
“It means so much to her,” Erin said.
McAuley’s Playground and Hanson’s Park, where it resides, were the centerpieces of dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremonies on Aug. 25. Among the 100 or so attendees were city of Cottleville and Mercy Health Care officials. Other officials, such as O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy and St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Operations John Mozeliak [a member of Mercy’s governing board] joined Cottleville police and firemen, members of service and civic organizations and members of the Hansen family.
Hansen’s Park is located behind the Mercy Kids Mid Rivers pediatric care facility on Ohlmes Road. Mercy Health Care donated the land to build the park and playground. The park is named for Jeff Hansen, who owned Hansen’s Tree Service and was a major contributor to charitable causes throughout the community. He was killed in a plane crash in 2015. The park became a reality in October 2016.
The playground is named for Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley, who had a special concern for children and women who were poor and underserved. In a nod to McAuley’s and Cottleville’s Irish roots, the playground features castle and shamrock motifs.
Though newly dedicated, it has been open since spring. It is the fourth all-inclusive playground in St. Charles County, with others in Lake Saint Louis, O’Fallon and St. Charles. A fifth all-inclusive playground is proposed for Wentzville. Each of the playgrounds is designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities who often cannot play on standard playground equipment.
McAuley’s Playground required three years of fundraising and planning to raise the $700,000 needed to build it. The city of Cottleville contributed $100,000 to the project. Donations also came from a variety of sources, including the Mercy Foundation, Mike Matheny’s Catch 22 Foundation and the Cottleville Firefighters Outreach [CFO] program.
Unlimited Play, a local company formed with the building of Zachary’s Playground in Lake Saint Louis, designed and helped to spearhead the project. Zachary’s Playground, opened in 2007, was the first all-inclusive playground in the county.
Cottleville Mayor Jim Hennessey said work remains on developing the remainder of the park, which, along with the playground, may cost about $1.2 million to finish. Mercy officials said some additional funding to develop other park facilities, including a pavilion, may come from the Mercy Foundation. He said the playground will help ensure that children with disabilities are not overlooked.
Although all-inclusive playgrounds are becoming more common, parents still travel a good distance to give their children a chance at playing at one. O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy lauded the use, acceptance and impact of Brendan’s Playground, which opened in 2011, on his community.
Natalie MacKay, executive director of Unlimited Play, whose son inspired Zachary’s Playground, said she’s working to develop similar playgrounds in Wentzville and in the southeast Missouri cities of Salem and Waynesville. She also is working with states such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois. Park and city officials now see that the American Disabilities Act guideline for playgrounds wasn’t inclusive for all children, she said.
Meanwhile, officials made a quick decision before the dedication ceremonies began – they opened up the park to a group of kids who attended the ceremonies with their parents. That had Oksana eying the swing set, even though she had to leave early.