It was a day to remember last Saturday at the Festival of Abilities at Oak Forest Park, both because of the record crowd but also because of the announcement from District C’s Council Member and Houston’s Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen that she had authorized a $150,000 allocation from her Council District Service Fund (CDSF) for the Playground for All Abilities at the park.
Each district council member has a CDSF, which is a discretionary account, to utilize for small-scale localized projects in their districts.
“I am pleased to share my strong support for the Friends of Oak Forest Park,” said Cohen.
On hand with Cohen for the announcement were Mayor Sylvester Turner, Commissioner Jack R. Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4, Maria Town, Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), Timbergrove resident Michelle Colvard, who headed up the MOPD under Mayor Bill White and Elyssa Horvath who chairs the Friends of Oak Forest Park.
Horvath said that the donation – in addition to another $120,000 from the dedication fund of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department – allows the design and construction of the park to be fully accessible and inclusive for kids and parents of all abilities, and to include the rubberized surface for easy wheelchair access.
Coming into the festival, Friends of Oak Forest Park had raised over $450,000.
Colvard, who had been involved with the city’s Playground Without Limits initiative, said that she knew that they were close to the fundraising goal and it was gratifying to have Cohen’s donation be the one that got them to their goal. Throughout the planning phase, Colvard stressed the need for a rubberized surface at the playground, among other features.
“I knew what it felt like as a kid to watch the other kids play when I couldn’t,” said Colvard. “I didn’t want to feel that way again as a parent. Parents with disabilities should be able to play with their kids on our playgrounds.”
Colvard remembers going to the first fully inclusive and accessible playground with her daughter at Memorial Park for the first time not long after she was born, and looks forward to having a playground closer to the area for kids and their parents with disabilities to enjoy. She notes that the Oak Forest playground will be the seventh in the City of Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department system and the first in this area.
“It is nice to be able to have options and variety in inclusive playgrounds,” said Colvard.
What’s different about Oak Forest’s Playground for All Abilities, according to Colvard, is that it is 100 percent community driven.
“Elyssa was all over the project,” said Colvard. “She just picked up the phone and started calling people to build all these partnerships.”
For Horvath, the generosity of friends and volunteers has been something she will always be grateful for. FLY Dance Company, directed by Jorge Casco donated their special performance. SIRE (Self-Dependence through Riding Education) which improves the quality of life for people with special needs through therapeutic horsemanship activities brought horses to the event.
Autumn Rosemond with Houston Dance Works did a number of benefits for the playground in the months leading up to the festival. Horvath said that a highlight was the collaboration between Houston Dance Works and Pastor Lindsay Smith with St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church who sang “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman.
“A student and teacher danced to the song which means a lot to me and to a lot of other people,” said Horvath. “It was really special.”
Members of The Friends of Oak Forest Park will continue to work with the Parks & Recreation Department and Houston Parks Board as the park takes shape.
The playground is scheduled for late 2019 construction.