BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO

I recently learned of LuBird’s Light Foundation from my friend and neighbor Megan. This is a project that is very close to her heart and one that I knew, without a doubt, needed to be shared. As a mother of three myself, I was instantly drawn to LuBird’s story. I have never had to struggle with watching two of my children happily play on a public playground while my other child patiently waits on the outskirts, unable to join in on the fun.

Lucia Dawkins lives in Denver, CO with her parents, Jason and Juliet, and two younger siblings, Scout and River, plus two loving, furry dogs. LuBird’s Light Foundation was founded in honor of  Lucia, affectionately called “LuBird.” Lucia was born with a rare genetic condition called Pallister Killian Syndrome or PKS and is affected from head to toe.  While Lucia faces many challenges she is just a little girl who wants to experience the joy, love and laughter in life. Her parents have made it their mission to help the city not only become educated about the needs of so many children dealing with diverse challenges, but also to aid in creating play structures that are not simply “handicap accessible,” but inclusive for all children including kids like LuBird.

Lucia is Latin for light and despite being nonverbal, in a wheelchair, legally blind and more, she has always been a beautiful shining light to her family.  At two weeks old Lucia’s parents were given the severe and bleak diagnosis of PKS.  While leaving the genetics office after receiving the news, cradling their first born beautiful little girl, tears streaming down their faces, the geneticist said something to them they will never forget.  “She’s just a little human that needs to be loved.”  Those words spoken to them, by Dr. Gary Bellus from Children’s Hospital Colorado, have resonated with Lucia’s family.  Kids with special needs are actually so similar to every other kid and every other human.  We all just need and deserve to be loved and given experiences.  LuBird’s Light Foundation strives to create a brighter world for exceptional kids.

There are over 74,000 kids with disabilities in Colorado and most playgrounds do not give these children an opportunity to experience the fun and joy of being outdoors with their peers. Unlike other major cities, our area does not offer a playground for all children to play together. LuBird’s Playground in Aurora will be the most inclusive playground in the Denver Metro area.

The first playground will be built at Stanley Marketplace. The wish list for this playground includes state-of-the-art handicapped accessible swings, spinners and slides, musical sensory play equipment and more, with a magical vibrant design.  Stanley Marketplace and the City of Aurora have generously granted LuBird’s Light Foundation approximately 5,000 square feet of outdoor space to build the inaugural playground. This location was selected due to the community-focused mission of Stanley Marketplace and it’s proximity to Denver Metro’s pediatric hospitals.

Consulting with landscape architects, developmental therapists, Anchor Center for Blind Children, Firefly Autism and Landscape Structures, they will complete the design and fulfill the vision of LuBird’s Playground. In partnership with the City of Denver, they will also be adding supported swings to existing parks throughout the Metro area to ensure all children can enjoy their neighborhood playgrounds. The big picture is to build and enhance playgrounds for families and children of all abilities to grow, learn and experience the joys in life together in magical, welcoming outdoor spaces.

We whole-heartedly believe in raising our kids to have an open mind. To have the opportunity to play side-by-side with someone that is different from them is a gift. If you would like to learn how you can help LuBird’s Light Foundation reach their goals, and create multiple “inclusive” playgrounds around the city, please visit http://www.lubirdslight.org/#support.

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