WARRINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- "When you have typical kids, you can just go to a playground," said Mariah Drenth-Cormick. "When you are a parent of a child or two with special needs, there's a lot more at stake. There's a lot more that you need to prepare. And a lot of times, families with kids with special needs just don't do it."
Drenth-Cormick became both a mother and a special needs mother when her daughter, Kathryn, was born. The bright, sociable 17-year-old was born with Down syndrome and required special repairs on her heart.
Since then, the family has advocated for inclusion wherever it can be accomplished.
A few years ago, Drenth-Cormick was introduced to the idea of Lions Pride Park by a member of the Warrington Lions Club. She was able to provide input on the multi-million dollar project that started in 2016.
"I'm so thankful that we were a part of something where typical, different needs, special needs can all play together," said Drenth-Cormick.
Lions Pride Park occupies the space of what used to be Twin Oaks Day Camp. The concept was brainstormed by the Warrington Lions Club, originally founded in 1941.
"We had saved up about a quarter of a million dollars and we wanted to do some legacy project for Warrington township," said one of the organization's directors, James Furlong. "A park that was all-inclusive, but focused especially on people with special needs."
The $2.5 million dream came true from a combination of Lions Club contributions, fundraising efforts, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grants, and donations by individuals and local businesses.
The park implemented special design elements that catered to individuals with both visible and invisible challenges. For example, slides are accompanied by wheelchair transfer stations. Also, specific swings are accessible to individuals in wheelchairs and are helpful for others with
different body types.
One member of the Lions Club conceptualized a phone application to assist the visually impaired when navigating the park land. Sensors on landmarks communicate with the user's device and relay geographical information.
Large interactive instruments have been installed on the playground so kids can refine their motor skills and engage with music. Children who require less stimulation can enjoy a relaxing time in the sand pit.
Additionally, the space adjacent to the playground has been outfitted with a life-sized chess board, hammocks, and a gazebo.
Overall, the park attracts families of children with all abilities and allows them to play alongside those with special needs. It also serves as a perfect location for physical therapists to meet with families and encourage physical activity.
It's been a game-changer for Drenth-Cormick and her daughter, who appreciate time outside the house.
"My hope is other townships near and far look at this and copy it," she said. "If they made the exact thing in every county, the kids can only benefit."
Next year, Lions Pride Park will look to phase two and convert the nearby pond into a wetlands area. A boardwalk path will encourage guests to coexist alongside wildlife.