Family raises money to adapt public playground
By Julie Gerke
Photos/Courtesy of Alaina Griffin
Arms full of colorful bracelets — and a couple dozen handcrafted clay mugs — are bringing a wide smile to a little boy and his family in Ashland.
Beau Griffin, 6, loves to swing at the parks in Ashland, but no longer can use the infant-sized plastic seats that brace a child’s back and hold him upright. Beau, who uses a wheelchair, isn’t quite strong enough to use a traditional youth swing.
Now, family, friends and the people of Ashland have stepped up to buy enough $6 bracelets and $25 mugs to not only outfit one — but both — Ashland parks with adaptive swings. The swings look similar to infant swings, but are larger and sturdier to hold older children.
Beau was born with gray matter heterotopia, which happens during development when some cells never arrive at the part of the brain where they are intended to be. The condition means Beau has trouble with fine and gross motor control.
With the fundraiser’s success, the family also plans to provide a gift to Freedom Reins, an equine therapy program that’s part of Refuge Ranch in Rochester. Additional adaptive playground equipment for the parks also is a possibility.
Beau starts first grade this fall at the grade school in Chandlerville, the same school where sister Lilah, 7, will enter second grade. Brother Tucker, 4, starts half-day preschool this fall. The school worked with the family to provide wheelchair ramps.
“I’m grateful for the community we have, the kindness and generosity of people to be the hands and feet for Jesus in this town,” said Beau’s mom, Alaina Griffin, a nurse at Walker Nursing Home in Virginia. “We are completely overwhelmed and shocked.”
The fundraiser got under way in late May with a goal of $1,200. By June 30, the bracelet and mug sales had raised $4,100.
The handmade bracelets are emblazoned with the word “Beautiful,” with Beau’s name in color and “tiful” in black. They are available by contacting Griffin’s sister, Courtney Cave, on Facebook. The limited-edition mugs, now sold out, were handmade by area potter Kirby Drennan.
Living in their hometown with family nearby was especially helpful to Alaina Griffin and the kids a couple of years ago when her husband and father of the children, Wesley “Wes” Griffin, was deployed. He is a staff sergeant with the Illinois Army National Guard and was deployed to Kuwait for nine months. “It was a blessing to have them [other family] so close,” she said.
Beau’s mom shares that he enjoys hunting turkeys, riding a small Gator UTV around the yard and playing T-ball. In addition to his friends at school (where Alaina also works as his aide), Beau has built-in playmates with his siblings and four cousins in the same age group.
“He’s very excited. I told him about [the project] one night before prayers,” Alaina Griffin said. “After prayers, he pointed to his piggy bank and said, ‘I want to give to my swing, too.’ He’s a kind soul.”
Finding success in a whirlwind six weeks from her initial idea to ordering swings, Beau’s mom is quick to acknowledge help from friends and family. For anyone who might consider a similar project, she recommends starting with a village or town board and asking about available money. Internet searches for adaptive equipment turn up leads for learning how to apply for grants, and about types of adaptive playground equipment.
Still, it was the human connection that provided the most help for the fundraiser: “A lot of people came forward and said, ‘I write grants. Do you need some help,’” Griffin said, adding that people also reached out when they learned of a need.
“People are good,” she said. “They’re so kind.”