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Guest Column: Newly Opened Lewiston Park Is a Great Place for all Families

By Sen. Nate Libby

All kids deserve to have a safe space where they can play outside with their friends. But for many kids with disabilities, taking advantage of their local playground just isn’t an option unless they want to watch from the sidelines. 

A report from 2017 shows that more than 6,000 kids across Maine have a health impairment and more than 3,000 kids have multiple disabilities. More than 16 percent of Lewiston’s students have special needs. 

I am the proud father of two boys, Charlie and Jude. My wife, Andrea, and I welcomed Charlie into our little family earlier this year. My oldest son, Jude, is 10 years old and has cerebral palsy. CP is a type of disability that affects a person’s ability to move and maintain their balance. According to the CDC, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in kids. In the U.S., 1 in 323 children has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. 

Jude is nonmobile and nonverbal, but he adores sights, sounds, and sensations of all kinds. Swimming, stroller rides, going down slides, and swinging on swings are among his favorite activities.

All parents want their kids to be healthy and happy and to have friends. But when our outdoor spaces aren’t accessible, some kids can be left out of the kind of socializing and fun that’s critical to their development and overall well-being. Multiple studies have shown that an active social life improves our mental and physical health. 

I’ve done everything I can to make sure Jude has the same great experiences I had growing up. In the summer, Jude attends Pine Tree Camp in Rome, Maine, which has a private, universally-accessible playground. Jude loves this playground. But I know not every family can send their kids to summer camp. My family wanted to bring that kind of accessible fun to more families like ours. We wanted to do what we could to make sure all families had a place where their kids could enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. 

After years of volunteering, planning, and fundraising, I led a small but dedicated group in building the state’s first public, universally-accessible playground. Jude’s Place at Marcotte Park opened to the public on a sunny but frigid day last November, at the corner of Caron and Jefferson streets, right behind the Colisee. I was thrilled and humbled when the City Council announced last fall that the park would be named for Jude. 

Jude’s Place is a welcoming, open space in the heart of Lewiston where kids of all ability levels can swing, spin, and slide with their friends. In warm weather, the playground is full of families from all walks of life swinging, laughing, and having fun. I’m so happy that our community has this space where all kids can goof off and just be kids. A special thanks goes to Dottie-Perham Whittier at City Hall, who helped shepherd this project to reality. 

Lewiston is a beautiful city, full of loving families. I hope more communities across Maine will be able to follow our lead to make a space where all kids can play and no one feels left out.

Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin) represents Maine Senate District 21, which comprises the City of Lewiston.

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