Franklin Borough celebrated its new, inclusive playground with a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the borough’s Fall Fest on Sept. 25.
Construction of the Mildred Harden Playground at Franklin Pond began in 2021. But the vision for an inclusive space for children started in 2019, when two former Franklin Borough moms, Renee Hennings and Tamara Contreras, got together and submitted a Community Revitalization grant through the Forward Franklin Alliance.
“Renee and I saw an opportunity through Forward Franklin to help our community and improve a public space,” said Contreras, also a community organizer for Forward Franklin. “We researched playgrounds in Sussex County and realized there wasn’t a local or fully accessible public playground that allowed people of all abilities to enjoy. We were hopeful that while obtaining the glider was a small upgrade, it could one day lead to more attention to this space and possibly an opportunity for further upgrades.”
The glider may be used by multiple people of any age at the same time. It encourages inclusion, social, and physical play as riders work together to shift their weight or push the outside to achieve momentum. Wheelchair users can participate in the fun without having to transfer out of their chair.
In 2020, the Franklin Borough Recreation Committee and council ramped up efforts to upgrade the entire play space. Through generous sponsorships, funds from the Franklin Carnival, and a portion of the Mildred Harden Fund, the borough was able to secure the finances needed to fulfill the vision of a brand-new, state-of-the-art, inclusive playground.
When the pandemic hit, installation was on hold, but Councilman Concetto Formica spearheaded efforts to continue the plan and expand the playground.
She said the playground includes play stations that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are zones suitable for ages 2.5 to 5 as well as ages 5 to 12. In addition to the glider, there are sensory panels and two zero gravity chairs. The park also includes several dedication and memorial benches as well as a Little Free Library.
‘A sense of joy’
Local resident Meg Crowley Demsak and her children recently visited the new and improved playground.
“The new adaptive playground at the Franklin Pond has a huge impact not only for my youngest daughter, who can now access equipment independently, but also her siblings, who love to see her included and have fun as a family,” said Demsak.
Helen O’Shea, RN, a case manager for Sussex County Special Child Health Services, understands the importance of play and recently visited Franklin Borough.
“I felt a sense of joy visiting the new Mildred Harden playground in Franklin,” she said. “This all-inclusive playground provides an opportunity for people of all abilities to feel welcome, safe, and valued.” (For more information on Special Child Health Services, call 973-948-5239.)
Guest speakers at the ribbon cutting included Atlantic Health Systems Director of Community Health and Care Coordination Social Services Laura Hawkins, resident Rachel Heath, resident and sponsor Sarah Zydon, and Franklin Borough Economic Development Chair Pattie Carnes.
Heath briefly shared Mille Harden’s history as a local teacher and an active community member. Harden died in 1990 at the age of 91.
“A former student of Miss Harden’s shared with me that it is truly a joy to see that Franklin Borough is recognizing her love of children and deep devotion to Franklin Borough by honoring Miss Harden and dedicating this recreation in her name,” said Heath.
The crowd helped in the countdown as several Girl Scout troops cut the ribbon and were the first to welcome other children onto the playground.
“The new adaptive playground at the Franklin Pond has a huge impact not only for my youngest daughter, who can now access equipment independently, but also her siblings, who love to see her included and have fun as a family.” Meg Crowley Demsak