DoD Revamps Playgrounds to Meet Needs

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"I would go to the school and he would be sitting by himself, because he couldn't get close," said Timothy's mother, Paula Donovan, wife of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Timothy Donovan. "It would break my heart."

But in a few weeks, Timothy's sideline days will be over.

The Defense Department's Office of Military Community and Family Policy has funded playground construction here and at 39 other military installations ? both stateside and overseas -- that will enable special-needs children like Timothy to join their friends at play.

"We're very pleased to be able to fund these playgrounds," said Rebecca Posante, the office's director of communications. The $10 million project will equip the bases with handicap-accessible playgrounds as well as pool lifts. The program also has provided about $5 million to the Department of Defense Education Activity to revamp some school playgrounds for special-needs children.

Timothy's school here received some of those funds and will unveil its new playground in the upcoming weeks.

While it was the Office of Military Community and Family Policy that supplied the money, it was a mother's love that provided the impetus for the project. Paula Donovan said she had been growing frustrated by the lack of accessibility for her son.

"I was surprised the playgrounds weren't accessible, because this is a Category 4 base," she said, referring to the fact that Quantico is one of the locations where families with special needs are sent. "I felt that Timothy and other children like him deserved better."

Born with a group of birth defects called VACTERL, 7-year-old Timothy has experienced health issues ranging from cardiac problems to limb abnormalities, and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 1. He already has undergone 21 surgeries.

Posante caught wind of the problem when the Donovans came to the Pentagon for a visit.

"Paula mentioned that Timothy couldn't play on the playground," Posante said. "Quantico is a location where the Marines send families with disabilities because of the hospitals there. That stuck in our minds."

When funds came available at the end of the year, there was no hesitation about where they would go. "We knew we wanted to put the money into the playgrounds," Posante said. "It was just a matter of where."

With sites selected, many playground projects already are under way, with others slated to begin soon. At Quantico, Timothy will have to wait only a few more weeks before he's joining his friends at recess on the monkey bars.

Timothy said he's "very excited" about the new playgrounds.
Paula Donovan said she's grateful for the upgrades.

"I really believe it will benefit a lot of people, not just the children, but also wounded warriors who want to come to the playground and play with their children," she said. "Unless people speak up, our leaders won't know what our children need. I'm glad I spoke up, and I'm glad there were people caring enough to listen."