Mike Moore spends a lot of time at the Wesley Chapel District Park (WCDP) on Boyette Rd.

Sometimes he is coaching. Other times he watches his three kids participate in other activities. And other times, he has noticed the absence of children with disabilities, who don’t get the same opportunities his kids do.

“A void,” he calls it.

A few years ago, Moore, the Pasco County Commissioner for District 2 and Seven Oaks resident who represents most of Wesley Chapel, started out on a mission to fill that void. 

On Aug. 6, Moore revealed his work to his fellow county commissioners, as plans to build an inclusive playground that is welcoming to those with physical disabilities — and to those who care for them — sprang to life.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research the last couple of years, looking at other inclusive parks around the country,” Moore says. “I thought it was something we should do here. I wanted to figure out a way to make that happen.”

With help from the local community, including the Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel, AdventHealth Wesley Chapel and the Lennar Foundation, the county commission accepted a total of $120,000 in contributions towards building the new playground — with $5,000 more in contributions expected — and agreed to kick in $215,000 of public money as well.

The $340,000 is expected to cover the entire cost of building the inclusive playground.

Moore says that work could begin on the park in about six months.

The response from the community since the announcement has been overwhelming, Moore says, noting that he has even received calls from others looking to make donations, and parents of children with disabilities who are overjoyed.

The playground is not just for children with disabilities. The goal is to build a playground that is available to everyone, and isolates no one. It will be the first of its kind in Pasco County, but not the last, Moore hopes. He says that for every 1,000 children in Pasco County, there are 85 who have some type of special needs. The Pasco County School District says there are 16,000 children with special needs countywide.

“We want a place where kids have the opportunity to participate and not just sit on the sidelines, no matter what their abilities are,” Moore says. 

While many area parks may be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, few truly meet the standards of what proponents consider to be inclusivity. 

To meet those inclusive standards, many of these playgrounds incorporate wider pathways and easier-to-navigate surfaces, activity panels that are at ground height, larger swings with more back support and sensory elements that include touch and music.

While the local playground may focus on physical activities, Moore says promoting socialization is a significant benefit of inclusive playgrounds, which bring kids who might otherwise shy away from others due to their disabilities together by promoting active play.

“We want a place that takes away the social barriers and gives parents an opportunity to participate as well,” Moore says. “Parents don’t always feel they are part of something, because their kids can’t take part.”

Getting The Ball Rolling

Once Moore hatched the idea, he went to Keith Wiley, the director of the county parks department. With a new indoor recreation center on the way to the WCDP as well, Moore had synergistic goals.

Wiley’s reaction? He says he was thinking the exact same thing.

“Our team realized the need for more special needs summer camps, but where would they go?,” Wiley says. “That I got that call (from Moore) was an amazing coincidence.”

There are few offerings within 30 miles for area residents to take their children to. At the park at the New Tampa Recreation Center, some swings were outfitted last year to accommodate children in wheelchairs. And, in another part of Tampa Palms, an autism-friendly sensory park is in the design phase, although no money was included in the recent fiscal 2019 City of Tampa budget to begin construction.

To help raise the needed funds, Moore reached out to some reliable community partners.

As a former member of the Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel (and still an honorary member), Moore presented a proposal to the club, whose Board thought it was in line with their mission and agreed to donate money from a special charitable fund the club created.

“Years ago, when I was president, (former club president) Dane Parilo, Mike and I got together, and we had this vision — what if we could (start a special fund); what if we could raise money for future projects?,” says Eric Johnson, the past president of the Rotary Club. “And, it’s all coming to fruition right now. We are very excited about this opportunity.”

According to Johnson, Rotary District 6950 (which includes about 40 Rotary Clubs) is giving a $10,000 grant to match the Wesley Chapel Rotary’s donation of $35,000, and the club plans on donating $5,000 more to be raised from their Casino Night fund raiser being held tonight at Lexington Oak Golf Clubs, bringing their total donation to $50,000. 

That is one of the club’s biggest donations to date.

The Rotary Club will maintain a butterfly garden adjacent to the playground.

The Lennar Foundation also is donating $50,000.

“We are very excited and grateful (to be involved),” said Arcadia Solesky, director of marketing for the Lennar Foundation.

Meanwhile, AdventHealth contributed $25,000 to the project.

“Our brand promise is to feel whole,” says AdventHealth chief financial officer Tyson Davis. “I can’t think of a better way to apply that brand promise in our community than being a part of this project.”

Perhaps no one, however, was more pleased than Moore. He says the inclusive playground will go down as one of the highlights of his career.

“It’s not always the government doing things, it’s the community coming together for the betterment of all of our kids,” he said. “After this project is done and complete…this will rank as one of the top things we’ve ever done.”

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