On Monday, ground was broken at The Bridge Sports Complex for the Medbrook Children’s Charity Inclusive Playground.
“This is two years later than what we were hoping for, but this dream is about to become a reality,” said Dr. Kelly Nelson, who heads up Medbrook Children’s Charity. The charity received naming rights by contributing nearly $200,000 to the $1.4 million project. “This is just a wonderful day.”
It is a day possible thanks to the genesis of Mike and Kim Martin beginning the Challenger division of Bridgeport Little League baseball more than two decades ago. It continued with current Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang and wife Lisa bringing the idea of an inclusive playground to the city. And it culminated with a city, county, a region, and beyond combining with contributions to The Friends of Bridgeport Recreation Inc., to make sure the resources and dollars needed were available to make it happen.
Although actual construction on the facility created through a grassroots effort will likely not begin until next month, the playground itself should be completed this year. And it is not an ordinary playground.
The playground will allow those children with disabilities to play with their peers and family members by removing barriers that would prohibit them from playing. It is the type of playground that Challenger League player Ivan Gonzalez would have loved, Nelson said.
“Ivan would be the poster child for the kid for this facility,” said Nelson after the groundbreaking and back inside of the warm confines of the Citynet Center.
Seven-year-old Ivan, a member of the Challenger League that also caters to children with special needs, passed away this past July. His mother and father and many members of the family gathered in the lengthy line of those tossing a shovel of wind-blown dirt during the groundbreaking. Like the others, their hands were filled with tiny plastic shovels commemorating the building of a facility primarily for kids.
“It chokes me up thinking about what just took place,” said mom Cheri Gonzalez. “Of course, I wish Ivan was here to be able to run around on something like this. When they announced this playground, it was hard to believe they would have something here for kids like Ivan … the love for these kids, the love we still receive for Ivan because of the love he gave them continually leaves us in awe.”
Ivan, born with Down Syndrome and who lived with an infectious smile, will have something there for those who take part. A slide at the facility will have his name on it.
“I knew Ivan was special, but it’s hard to think that there will be something there with his name on it that so many kids will get to enjoy,” said Ivan’s father Adam. “It is amazing that this facility is here. It’s a perfect spot.”
The spot at the Citynet Center is just a couple of home runs away from where the Challenger League plays its games at the same facility. Lang, who has been knee deep in the project with his wife and so many others for years, said the location is the result of a vision of Bridgeport Parks and Recreation Director Joe Shuttleworth.
“When we knew we could do this, the big question became, where do we put this,” Mayor Lang said. “Joe Shuttleworth came to me and Lisa and said, ‘I realize where it needs to be and that’s beside the Rec Center.’ We had the design of the (Citynet) Center and knew by looking at it the grassy area was the place to put it,” the mayor said.
Individuals can still assist The Friends of Bridgeport Recreation, a 501c3 charitable organization, is the agency managing the funds. While more than $1 million is available, including an initial investment of $250,000 by the City of Bridgeport, the organization is still seeking business and individual donations to meet final goals.
For more information and to learn how you or your business can donate to make this incredible project a reality, visit www.friendsofbridgeportrec.com. Individuals can also call 304-842-8240.