The brand-new slides, ramps and other playground features are nearly all set up but the fact that Kidz Kove Discovery Park is finally coming together after four years of fundraising won’t be real until children can actually play there.
“The real day will be when the kids get on this equipment,” Project Kidz Kove President Stacey Bumpus said. “My eyes won’t be dry.”
Friday marked the first of three days that hundreds of volunteers turned out to help assemble playground equipment to bring the park, the only one of its kind in the immediate area for special needs children, closer to fruition.
“It is emotional,” said Audrey Boudreaux, Project Kidz Kove publicity chairwoman. “It’s exciting. It’s just a dream come true for many of the parents of special needs kids who face challenges daily that we can hardly imagine.”
Kidz Kove Discovery Park is a play area for children of all abilities but is designed for special needs children with physical or sensory developmental challenges.
There are other playgrounds for special needs children in Mandeville and Denham Springs but those took nearly twice as long as Kidz Kove to construct, Bumpus said.
Through four frenzied years of fundraising — chili cook-offs, golf tournaments and social mixers — and more than $200,000 allocated from the city of Gonzales and Ascension Parish government, the park slowly came together, Bumpus said.
Private donations from the late Bobby Giles and his family, plus generous donations from BASF Corp., PCS Nitrogen and the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair Foundation, helped the group reach its monetary goals, Kidz Kove officials said.
“He was like our guardian angel,” Bumpus said of Giles, a Gonzales resident who donated to many local causes.
There is no firm opening date but Boudreaux said she hoped the park will open by the end of the year. The park must still be fenced and a mural painted, Boudreaux said.
The city of Gonzales dedicated about three acres near the intersection of East Cornerview Road and South Francois Avenue for the playground and will maintain the park after it opens.
The playground has a pirate ship theme and nautical touches including a compass stenciled on the ground at the park entrance.
Some of the cement walkways are stained to look like a ship’s wooden planks, and looking down from atop the playground equipment, children will see the soft-surfaced ground painted in several shades of blue to resemble the ocean, Boudreaux said.
Two playgrounds, one for toddlers and one for older children, both have ramps for children who use wheelchairs to play with friends or siblings. Many children have had to watch from the sideline because their disabilities have prevented them from playing at regular playgrounds, Boudreaux said.
The sand pit has special shells hidden in the sand for children with sensory issues, she said.
Officials hope the park will benefit children with all types of special needs — even the types you can’t see.
“This is a discovery park,” Boudreaux said. “You have to address every special needs child.”
Volunteers braved the hot sun Friday to drill, sweep, dig and sweat as they spent their time making the park resemble a real playground.
Friends Stephanie Rizzo, of Gonzales, and Bianca Moak, of Prairieville, volunteered to help Friday because they wanted to give back.
“It gives you a sense of community to be a part of something, especially anything a lot of kids can enjoy,” said Rizzo, who has a friend with a special needs child who introduced her to the Kidz Kove project.
The pair broke down boxes, passed out water and snacks, and also helped move long sections of black landscape edging.
“I love it,” Moak said. “I like to work with my hands.”
Local fire and rescue crews and corporate sponsors sent out their teams over the weekend to assemble the equipment, as well.
GSA Construction, a project management company with Project Kidz Kove, had about 10 employees working Friday, GSA’s Mark Maher said.
“Everyone knows someone who has been touched with a special needs child,” Maher said.
For Bumpus, the mother of a special needs daughter, the day was unbelievable.
“I’m on cloud nine,” Bumpus said. “I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”