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M. Hackbarth

As a kid, my idea of a perfect day included being outside playing soccer or boating on the lake, and having a sleepover with my grandparents afterwards.

The simplicity of a child’s enjoyment is often overlooked by our busy, ever hectic society, and for some, is nearly impossible to comprehend.

A sunny, breezy day at the park is often a source of happiness, whether on the playground at school or at a neighborhood playground. Many memories many of us have today started at these playgrounds.

Have you imagined what it would have been like to not be able to play at the park? To not have the opportunity to run and jump and dash up the stairs to the slide? In our imperfect world, this just so happens to be true for some children.

Meet Zachary, who suffers from a rare central nervous system disease, pelizaeus merzbacher disease. Although he cannot walk and has difficulty holding his head up, Zachary is one of the brightest and strongest boys I have come to meet.

The same could be said for his mother, who was determined and ambitious enough to see to it that Zachary and other children will have playgrounds.

Zachary's parents, Natalie and Todd, and Zachary's pediatric speech therapist started a foundation that designs and builds playgrounds that are accessible for children of all physical abilities.

Many playgrounds near their home in O'Fallon, Mo., and in mine are considered to be accessible for Zachary, but we (being my senior class) soon found out otherwise.

On a recent field trip, we visited his old playground, in which his wheelchair sinks into the wood chips. We then saw Zachary’s playground, a playground specifically named for him; a playground that would be every kid’s dream. Ships, castles, swings, numerous ramps, and colorful slides were all over the place.

However, that wasn’t even the best part. It was accessible to everyone. It was inclusive and specific to everyone’s needs, not just his.  

The surface was rubberized so wheelchairs could roll freely. There were slides that were made for kids with cochlear implants because they cannot go down plastic ones. There were ramps for kids in wheelchairs to get to the top of the castle. Even as seniors in high school, we found such enjoyment in the various ways to play. Zachary’s mother and her business partner thought of everything.

Luckily for so many of today’s children, the dream didn’t stop there, and Unlimited Play playgrounds are now in seven locations. I am also proud to say that our class is donating $1,000 to the construction of a new one, called Kade’s playground.

I think this gives our class the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life and to help foster the thought of community and inclusion that our society is too often ignorant of.

It also provides a connection between yourself and people you may not even know. They do not know who you are, what your mistakes are. They only know you were conscientious enough to take your part in building the future.

Today’s decisions shape the future, and with dreams and determination, our futures can be as bright as the sun that shines in the summer over innumerable playgrounds.

If you would like to donate or volunteer, go to www.unlimitedplay.org.

Marissa Hackbarth is a senior at St. Pius High School in Festus. Although she lives in Affton, she started at St. Pius and decided to finish high school there. She is a member of the National Honor Society and enjoys reading dancing, painting and playing soccer.