As the fall settles in and the weather cools, more locals will spend time in Oak Forest Park located at 2100 Judiway Dr. Once funding is complete for the second phase of the park’s revitalization, members of the community will be able to relax while remembering two former residents. Locals will watch children play while enjoying the Swayze family commemorative bench.
The approaching Festival of Abilities is the largest fundraiser each year for park’s planned addition for its new “Playground for All Abilities.” To help, be sure to attend on Saturday, Oct, 28, from 3 pm to 7 pm. in the park. This second annual fest is a family oriented, inclusive, action-packed must-do. Last year, more than 1,000 attended.
What attracted so many? The fact that the event is full-blown fun for all. The Festival of Abilities offers wondrous activities, all of which can be enjoyed by those with physical challenges. The fest features an obstacle course, SIRE therapeutic horses, a petting zoo, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, trick or treating, a costume contest, dazzling dance performances and activities hosted by local businesses. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 5 pm to celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of fundraising.
Oak Forest Park has long been a favorite of local children. Soon, it will be even better with the addition of its cutting-edge Playground for all Abilities, a play space dedicated to all kids, one of only a handful in the entire city. Plans include wheelchair accessible, sensory-rich equipment, an engraved paver pathway, commemorative picnic tables and benches, and a painted art tile installation. For the first time, those with disabilities can play alongside their friends.
The Swayze bench is one of eight commemorative benches and pick nick tables in the new playground’s design. When funding is complete, the bench will be dedicated to honor the Swayze family including actor/dancer Patrick “Buddy” Swayze who grew up in Oak Forest, and his beloved mother Patsy, who taught many area children to dance.
“Able-bodied children also learn lessons that can last a lifetime by interacting with those of different abilities,” stated Elyssa Horvath. “Accessible playgrounds are spaces where everyone learns to accept one another.”
Horvath is the Chairperson of the Friends of Oak Forest Park and Coordinator of the Festival of Abilities. She will not say as much, but she is the spearhead for the Playground for all Abilities vision. This active local has a marketing and event planing background, and directed her fierce skill set to the task of launching the playground campaign in 2016. To date, the group has raised over $200,000 in private funding.
Perhaps the greatest moment at the Festival of Abilities will be entertainment by Cookie Joe’s Dance Company. Cookie Joe is a renowned dance instructor. She and her students – some with special needs – will be performing a tribute to Patrick and Patsy Swayze. For Joe, it’s personal. Patsy was her dance teacher, second mother, and personal mentor. Patrick was a dear friend, dance classmate, and fellow Waltrip High School graduate.
“Buddy was such a kind person. No one was beneath him,” Joe stated. “He also set high standards for himself. When we danced together, he always made me reach higher, and do better.”
Joe loved her friend Buddy, but it was Patsy who made the difference. “I started dancing at her school when I was nine. She welcomed me into her family and she inspired me to teach others. Patsy left an impression, and to this day, I carry her training on to my students. They are now an extension of her too, through my instruction,” Cookie Joe concluded.
The Leader spoke with Patrick’s niece Danielle Swayze regarding the family’s feeling about the commemorative bench. She was delighted.
“There is no place on Earth that my grandmother or my Uncle Patrick would have preferred be remembered, than at a Playground for all Abilities,” she concluded.
For more info about the festival, to Sponsor or donate, please go to houstonparksboard.org/events/festival_of_abilities_2017/ or contact Elyssa Horvath at firstname.lastname@example.org.