WEST RIDGE — A new outdoor park on the Far North Side gives people with disabilities an inclusive, accessible place to play and relax in the neighborhood, local leaders said.
Gan Avigail, the park at Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Centers, 3003 W. Touhy Ave., opened to the neighborhood Sunday. The park features two fully accessible playgrounds, sports and recreation fields, an outdoor pavilion and a walking path, according to a news release.
At the dedication ceremony, kids tried out the equipment, got their faces painted and helped make signs that will be placed around the park.
The Jewish Community Centers has been a neighborhood fixture for more than 60 years and serves more than 75,000 community members. The organization offers early childhood care, camps for children and teenagers, sports and other wellness activities, Jewish education and other programs.
Rachel Arfa, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, said the “sentimental memories” she made at the community center as a deaf child were vital in connecting her with her Jewish heritage and neighbors.
Arfa said she hopes future generations can enjoy their time in the space as well as the lifelong benefits that come from feeling included in their community.
“I and many other people with disabilities deal with a lot of structure in our schedule, going to school, going to speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy,” said Arfa, the highest-ranking deaf person to serve in a city government leadership role. “This park creates a space for people with disabilities to come together and enjoy, without every moment being so structured.”
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) also said she grew up spending time at the community center. She still frequently visits with her kids, who play sports and swim there and participate in other activities the organization offers, Silverstein said.
“It is particularly gratifying to see how much effort went into making this site fully accessible so that every member of the community can enjoy it and be included,” Silverstein said.
A mother who helped raise funds for the park spoke about the importance of accessible playgrounds for kids with disabilities. She said her now-17-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, would have benefited from a park like this when she was younger.
“When Emma was younger, and she spent many of her summer days as a JCC camper, it was very stressful and anxiety-provoking for her to play on the playground,” the mother said during the dedication ceremony. “As a lifelong camper, Emma was always provided the assistance to participate in any camp activity she wanted to be a part of, but having an accessible playground like this one would have made Emma’s camp experience that much stronger.”
“She would have been able to use the playground and have age-appropriate conversations and social experiences with her friends without needing an aide by her side. That’s a game-changer for a kid like Emma and for so many others in our community.”