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KIDS & FAMILY

A park where all children can play

June 19, 2008|Liesl Bradner

The OPENING of a new playground can bring joy to a neighborhood, and visitors to the popular Lake Balboa recreation area were given a reason to celebrate June 9 as a state-of-the-art playground was unveiled at the Anthony Beilenson Park (better known as Lake Balboa Park).

It had been nearly two years since slides, swings and monkey bars had graced the shores of Lake Balboa -- when the existing playground had been deemed unsafe -- so families were especially delighted by the arrival of a universally accessible playground -- the 15th in L.A. designed by the nonprofit foundation Shane's Inspiration, under the direction of the L.A. City Council.

"It's the birthright of every child to simply play at the park," says Tiffany Harris, CEO and co-founder of Shane's Inspiration.

The 19,600-square-foot play area is divided into two age-appropriate zones; one for 2- to 5-year-olds, and another more adventurous one for the 6- to 12-year-old set. The ground is covered by a cushy rubberized surface (made in part with recycled tires) and all the equipment has wide ramps, which are key for kids in wheelchairs and walkers. Alongside traditional swings are high-backed versions for kids who can't support themselves in the old-fashioned kind.

Braille boards and sensory panels with noise-making buttons fill a nautical-themed area. Kids can also bang on big metal drums or create lively tunes on bells and piano keys. The area also has a big red rocking boat, a climbable red and white buoy and a tire swing. These items aren't just fun -- they help develop fine motor skills such as balance and sensory therapy for autistic children.

Shane's Inspiration opened its first playground in 2000 in Griffith Park, and it was the first of its kind on the West Coast. Because of the positive feedback, several more universally accessible playgrounds were built around L.A.

"I think it's great," says Stephanie Rochon, a mom of three who works with special needs kids. "It opens the doors to everybody."

At the Lake Balboa playground, a sail-like canopy overhead gives protection during the hot, sun-soaked summer months. "Before any equipment was installed, I made sure there would be shade," says Catherine Curry-Williams, co-founder and mother of the foundation's namesake, Shane, who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy and died in 1997, two weeks after birth. Had he lived, he would've spent his life in a wheelchair.

In Shane's memory, Williams and her husband, along with Harris, created their organization dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities, developing universally accessible playgrounds that allow the children to play side-by-side with their able-bodied peers.

"Most people who visit these parks -- who don't know anything about them -- just think they are a really cool playground," says Harris.

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-- Liesl.Bradner@latimes.com

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SHANE'S INSPIRATION

WHERE: Anthony C. Beilenson Park, 6300 Balboa Blvd., Van Nuys

PRICE: Free.

INFO: To find a universally accessible playground, call (818) 988-5676 or visit www.shanes inspiration.org

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