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This mother’s triplet born with a spinal cord defect spurred her efforts to build a playground for all

Rachel Kopfler, president of the Mason Parks & Recreation Foundation, continues to help lead the City of Mason in raising awareness and funds for the all-inclusive Common Ground playground, which is expected to be completed over the next several years.

A few phases of the project have already been completed, or are currently underway. We talked to Kopfler to find out about her passion for Common Ground and why it will be such an asset to the community.

Kopfler said Common Ground is an all-inclusive playground designed to encourage children and adults of all levels and abilities to interact with each other. The playground will be located on 22-acres near US 42 and Snider Road in Mason.

The playground’s educational and interactive environment will be unlike any other in the region, going beyond the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act to promote complete social inclusion and cooperative play.

Interested community members can donate or get involved by volunteering at various events through the Mason Parks & Recreation website at http://www.masonparksfoundation.org/give.html.

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Q: Tell us about yourself?

A: We live in Mason. My husband and I have five kids. We have a 15-year-old, 14-year-old triplets and a 13-year-old. One of my triplets was born with a spinal cord defect, so that’s how we got involved in this project, because he’s always done well with everything he needed to do in terms of hitting milestones, and a lot of that is attributed to the fact that he has two typical siblings, right there, every day. Not only two, he really has four, but he has two that are literally the exact same age, and when they started doing all the stuff they were supposed to do, he started doing all of it as well. He learned what he was supposed to be doing, based on modeling after them, so that’s where we got the idea for an all-inclusive playground. Come to find out, all-inclusive playgrounds were becoming more prevalent around the country.

Rendering of the Common Ground playground in Mason. CONTRIBUTED (Contributing Writer)

Q: Can you describe the features of the playground?

A: The idea is that it basically removes the boundaries that would cause a child not to be able to play at a playground. So, for instance, the most visual one is adding ramps, because a child that is in a wheelchair can’t necessarily get to the highest level of play if there’s not a ramp. That’s probably the most obvious, but there are other things. A typical playground can be overwhelming for children with special needs, such as those with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder, so they end up having a meltdown, having to leave, not being able to play, and they miss out on that interaction with their peers. So, there will be some quiet spaces where the children can get away if they need to. They can go take a little break, re-group themselves and then they’ll be able to continue to play. There will also be a fence around the entire playground, so parents with children that have Autism, or young children that tend to run, that can be a scary thing for a parent, and with the idea of it being fenced, they don’t have that fear of their child running. Those are a couple of the features.

Q: Can you tell us about the location and how it will be positioned or set up?

A: The location is on a 34-acre tract of land that’s just south of the post office on US 42 in Mason. That’s were it will be. I’m not sure of that the exact footprint and what the actual equipment will be. That’s still a little bit of a moving target, but probably about a two-to-three-acre playground…The playground is just one phase, and once that is complete, we would like to be able to add a Miracle Baseball Field there as well, and an accessible soccer field, so there’s a lot of ideas about the different things we can add to the location.

Q: You can see this project being developed through the different phases. What are you most excited about as far as bringing this to Mason?

A: Just the obvious that there will be a place for children with disabilities to be able to play with their typical peers. And then for parents, we have a member of our park board, he and his wife are both adults with disabilities, and both of them use a wheelchair to get around. They have typically developing children, so they haven’t been able to take them to a playground. Because as a parent, he’s always said, he doesn’t want to take his children to a playground, where they are able to climb up, and then he won’t be able to get to them if he needed to. One of the biggest points we want to make is it’s not just for children with disabilities. It’s for anybody with a disability. It’s for grandparents that are watching their grandchildren that don’t have the ability to climb up onto a playground structure. There are also benefits for typically developing children to be able to be exposed to children with disabilities at an early age, to be able start building that idea of inclusion at a very early age.

Q: How have you seen other members of the community get on board with the project? How are they responding and supporting it so far?

A: We have a lot of support and donations. Although it won’t be located in Deerfield Township, Deerfield Township contributed $100,000 to the project in 2017, because they feel it’s important for their residents as well, even though it won’t fall under their umbrella of parks. That’s one example. We are planning on starting the third phase in the spring. (Phase Three is a lot of site work, moving dirt and preparation.) We are currently doing a mass mailing to the business community. We’ve certainly had a positive impact. We received a grant from the state three or four years ago that paid for the road to go in, so there’s a lot of support. This is a huge project…Phase Four is the parking lot. Phase Five is the restroom facility and Phase Six is the actual equipment. (There are currently Seven Phases, including the Miracle Baseball Field, which is Phase Seven.)…We’ve seen the most momentum by far in the past 12 months, since the City of Mason came on, and said they would match every contribution or commitment we received up to $300,000, and that would get Phase Three done.

Q: How popular are the all-inclusive playgrounds, regionally? Are they becoming more popular, nationwide?

A: I think they are definitely becoming more popular. As parks and recreation departments look to add new playgrounds, the idea of inclusive play is becoming more and more prevalent. Again, it doesn’t just target a small group of children with disabilities. It’s much more far-reaching than that. So, I think the idea of inclusion is at the forefront of what parks and recreation directors across the country are considering when they are either updating their equipment or building new playgrounds.

Contact this contributing writer at gmwriteon@aol.com.

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