My husband Dennis and I live in Lancaster County with our three children. Our oldest daughter is 24, our middle son is 21 and our youngest son is 17 years old. Our youngest son (Daniel) was born prematurity at 28 weeks old and has cerebral palsy.
Our oldest two children attended our local church’s preschool at the time when they were of age and when our youngest came along my wish for him was to do the same. This goal was accomplished with the help of our county early intervention providing a personal care assistant to help with self-care and curriculum adaptions. This was the early start of inclusion for our son.
Through this inclusion is where Daniel’s Den was envisioned. Meeting other moms with their children for playdates at local playgrounds, I realized our son couldn’t physical maneuver the playground with other kids his age. Through many years of planning, a lot of community help, and lots of money Daniels Den was built in the spring of 2008. Manor Church in Lancaster contacted me sometime in the fall of 2006 hearing my vision through an article in our local paper. They said they had land and wanted to donate it for this playground. My idea of a playground was A LOT bigger than their idea, but they soon came on board. I feel I was the one who really created the idea of inclusion more so than them. At the time Manor Church was just starting a disability ministry.
I feel one of the biggest struggles or challenges that families that are affected by disabilities face in the church and community are attitudes. They feel if they are or become physically accessible, they they’ve done their job. That is just a start. I know it’s hard for people that don’t live our lives to understand, but they can sure try. Being able to speak during this time the playground was built and the importance of inclusion to professionals, community leaders, and just regular families was important to me. I have heard many families speak of stories regarding inclusion that have used the playground that previously wouldn’t have even known what the word meant. Being a follower of Jesus too, I have heard many stories of people visiting the playground with their children have come to know Christ after attending and joining our church. To me that’s all worth it…bringing people to Christ.
Daniel’s Den Playground was a $500,000 project. Early on I thought this was going to be impossible and many times throughout I wanted to give up. After hiring a playground designer (Leathers and Assoc), they provided us with a thick book about the whole process which was very helpful explaining all the different committee’s that need to be involved to make this happen. We had a fundraising committee, food committee (serving food to thousands during build week), childcare committee (providing childcare during build), tools and materials committee(obtaining and providing tools/materials during build), volunteers committee (obtaining and organizing over 3,000 volunteers to help build playground) and many other small committees.
During this time, our family started attending Manor Church. Our kids attended kids and youth programs while my husband and I were (and still are) involved in a small group. Daniel has gone on mission trips and weekend retreats in the past in addition to Sunday morning and Wednesday evening programs. He has always been treated just like the other kids despite being in a power wheelchair. In fact, the kids love taking rides on the back of his chair.
I would say to sum it up my message for others is that inclusion is a benefit for the child with a disability, but more so a benefit to others that get to come along side and see how others grow in knowing every child is a creation of God.
Note: Daniel’s Den Playground is located in Lancaster, PA.
Hi Denise! I loved this article and wanted to thank you for your perseverance in the creation of Daniels Den. I have two sons with special needs, and it is a challenge to find “safe spaces” for them. We found Daniels Den on our visit to Lancaster kind of by accident, and it is just a beautiful welcoming place. My boys loved it, especially the little spray water spots! We look forward to returning again soon!