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Elmwood Park Plans Inclusive Playground To 'Bring Everyone Together'

Jeff Leider, Donna Puglisi and Elmwood Park Mayor Robert Colletti stand at Cherry Hill Park with plans for an new inclusive playground. Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson
Donna Puglisi shows plans for Elmwood Park's new inclusive playground. Photo Credit: Lauren Kidd Ferguson

ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. – An Elmwood Park father of two sons with special needs has a big dream.

“Every town should have a swing system that all children can come together as one and play on,” Jeff Leider told Daily Voice.

As the first step of reaching his goal, Leider – whose children Jason and Justin are battling a rare genetic disease called Hunter Syndrome – is helping to create such a place in his own hometown.

Next year, ground will be broken on an inclusive playground at Cherry Hill Park on Cadmus Avenue.

The system will be able to be utilized by both children with special needs and those without special needs. It will feature a ramp for kids and adults in wheelchairs, swings with harnesses, sensory toys, a rocking swing that a wheelchair can fit in, and both regular and special sensory slides. It will also include a special quiet pod to help children with autism or sensory issues.

The project – which was unanimously approved by both the Elmwood Park Recreation Advisory Board and the Mayor and Council -- will be funded with grants through Leider’s Let Them Be Little x2 Foundation, and funds from the town’s Recreation Trust Fund, if needed.

“There is no burden to the taxpayers,” said Mayor Robert Colletti.

Colletti said, “as an elected official, it is important that all children are included.”

Elmwood Park Recreation Director Donna Puglisi is also happy to see the project come to fruition.

“I see special needs children on a regular basis through our after-school program, before-school program and other recreation programs…I think it’s something that is really needed,” she said.

The new system will be built next to an existing playground, which Puglisi said is beneficial for all. “It is integrated, it is not separated,” she said.

The town also has preliminary plans to build a second inclusive playground on the opposite side of town – at Rosemont Park.

But for Leider, an advocate for children with rare diseases, Elmwood Park is just the beginning.

“I feel it is so important to bring everyone together … I want to try to start doing it in every town.”

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