When The Friends of Oak Forest Park started raising money in 2016 for the first neighborhood-initiated accessible playground in the history of Houston’s city park system, Elyssa Horvath – who chairs the group – said that it was important to encourage giving to the More Than 1 Way 2 Play campaign at all levels.
“Everything from the Pennies for our Playground initiative for kids to contribute from their piggy banks to local business sponsorships and foundation grants has gotten us to where we are now,” said Horvath. The Oak Forest Park Revitalization project has received $150,000 in funding from foundations locally and nationally, including a $50,000 grant received just this month.
Where they are now is more than $450,000 closer to their goal of building the Playground for All Abilities. Horvath says that funds raised at The Festival of Abilities at Oak Forest Park, to be held Saturday, October 27, from 3-7 p.m. will allow plans to move forward with the landmark playground design this fall. The playground is scheduled for late 2019 construction.
Unique features of the accessible playground will be ramping for ease of use for park-goers with wheelchairs and other assistive devices, a high back swing on the new swing set, and a wheelchair-friendly, rubberized surface.
Twelve year old Garrett Holcombe is the honorary ambassador of the park project. Holcombe has spastic cerebral palsy and is also an active, sports-loving kid.
“It would be nice to have equipment for people with disabilities so they can play just like other kids their age,” said Holcombe. “They deserve to laugh, scream, and play just like all kids.”
Timbergrove resident and former Ms. Wheelchair Texas and America Michelle Colvard is an advisor to the Friends of Oak Forest Park and says she is excited to use the playground with her preschooler Anja.
“As someone who grew up using a wheelchair, I didn’t have the opportunity to play with other kids on a wheelchair-friendly playground when I was a child,” said Colvard. “Now, as the mother of a 3-year old, I’m thrilled that we are so close to our goal of being able to add a wheelchair-friendly playground just a stone’s throw from our neighborhood.”
The Houston Young Lawyers Foundation (HYLF) awarded the first Playground for All Abilities grant to fund a We-saw, an adaptive version of the traditional see-saw.
Much to see and do
Much like the fundraising campaign, the festival that celebrates and supports it has grown in scope each year.
This year, the activity-packed day includes SIRE therapeutic horses, performances, a petting zoo, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, trick or treating, a costume contest, sports, games, auction and a food court. Dynamo Diesel will make an appearance from 4-5 p.m.
The craft beer garden will feature wine tastings and the Battle of the Texas Brews™ between 11 Texas craft breweries, including locals Greater Heights Brewing Company, Eureka Heights Brewing Company and Karbach Brewing Company.
The Nina Lee and Harold P. Hill art tile installation, where participants can hand-paint tiles to be placed along the future Pathway to Play, which will lead to the new playground, pays tribute to one of Oak Forest’s first families.
Harold Hill worked with Frank Sharp in the early 1940’s to develop the post WWII neighborhood, naming Nina Lee Lane in his wife’s honor. Their children wanted to honor their parents’ legacy, and the Playground for All Abilities’ public art project was a fitting tribute.
Guests of honor include Mayor Sylvester Turner, Commissioner Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, and Maria Town, Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD).
The nationally-acclaimed Fly Dance Company, known as the “gentlemen of hip-hop” will perform their interactive, original choreography, with an opening act from The River Performance Troupe, a TUTS-based group of artists with disabilities. Cover band Breakfast at Tiffany’s, led by Oak Forest Elementary kindergarten teacher Tiffany Janish, will close out the evening.
Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Houston Ellen Cohen, who is also the Council Member representing District C, which includes Oak Forest Park, has been a staunch supporter of the revitalization efforts from the start. Cohen allocated $20,000 from her Council District Service Fund towards improving the tennis court at Oak Forest Park in 2016.
“When complete, this barrier-free playground will be the first of its kind to serve central-northwest Houston,” said Cohen. “Located in the heart of the third largest neighborhood in our city, Oak Forest Park provides an ideal, central location for an accessible playground that will serve thousands of my constituents.”
Festival packages and wristbands are available through a donation to Houston Parks Board, a 501(c)3 organization: http://houstonparksboard.org/events/festival/.
Advance order and pick up are recommended. Admission is free for children under 2. Follow https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofOakForestPark/ for event information or contact Elyssa Horvath at FriendsofOakForestPark@yahoo.com.