A park inspired by two children with severe disabilities celebrated its rededication on Tuesday at Getzendaner Park.
Megan and Mitch Mitchell were the inspiration behind the Waxahachie Junior Service League fundraising to construct a park for children of all abilities, which is appropriately named M&M Park.
Their mother, Helen, was a former WJSL member and past president of the organization.
Helen pulled out a 1995 Daily Light that published the initial dedication showing Megan in an adaptable swing and her father, Pleasant, pushing Mitch through the maze.
Mitch, sadly, passed away in December 2018 and was not able to experience the ceremony in person.
Pleasant and Helen, with Megan by their side, cut a celebratory Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce ribbon to commemorate the day.
With friends, family and community members at their all around, Helen said, “We are very honored that people would take their time out and appreciate the service league and be kind enough to invite us to come. We are really tickled.”
The WJSL raised $40,000 from cookbook sales in the 1990s, and proceeds purchased the maze and the large wooden play structure that are handicap accessible.
The rededication featured renovations with additional sensory features, paint touch-ups, a new playground pad and other equipment.
Gumaro Martinez, assistant director of parks and recreation, oversaw the project that wrapped up approximately one month ago.
The most significant repair was the outdoor floor replacement. Rubber tile existed on the play area before, and over time, the material became corroded and missing. The flooring was replaced with a pour-in-place rubber that provides a lot of bounce and incorporates more access points to wheelchairs.
“This was kind of a missing piece to make this playground complete and inclusive,” Martinez explained. “Now you can come in through the ramp and go to every pad on this playground and into the restroom.”
New picnic tables were installed as well as three new features. An adaptive swing can provide joy to individuals who are wheelchair users. Two music structures were also incorporated into the playground that provide sensory stimulation.
The auditory features include the “emperor chimes” and Conga drums.
Outgoing WJSL president Jenny Bridges shared a few words before the ribbon cutting and spoke with the Daily Light about her personal connection with the family.
“WJSL is so thankful for the city’s dedication to its children and truly to those who cannot play on traditional playground equipment,” Bridges thanked. “Thank you for the care you put into maintaining this playground over the years.”
Bridges’ mother and Helen were the two who initiated the efforts to build the park. As a child, Bridges spent quality time with Megan and Mitch, “and they always had smiles on their faces, and I know they loved playing on this playground."
Helen and Pleasant moved to their ranch home in Llano to take care of the children in the late-90s, but when the family resided in Waxahachie, Helen was prominent in the Special Olympics program. She noted the significant event brought in a substantial amount of students to compete. Helen expressed her gratitude toward the inclusive community that the city and school district instilled.
When Megan was in elementary school, general education students who made the best score on the spelling test had the privilege to get Megan from the art or music room.
“She was a reward," Helen elaborated. "The kids were always good at turning her because she cannot turn herself to follow the action. They were always good at turning her to make sure she could see what was going on.”
As old college friends from Texas Christian University said their goodbyes to Helen, a gentleman and his wife praised the family for their loving efforts.
“You are talking to a couple of parents that are models,” the man told the Daily Light. “They have taken care of these two children like you wouldn’t believe — all of their lives.” His wife then noted, “It’s the reason they have lived so long. It’s because of the care.”
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450