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Clayton breaks ground on all-inclusive Harmony Playground

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CLAYTON — The town of Clayton broke ground Oct. 14 on the Harmony Playground off N.C. 42 and Glen Laurel Road. It’s a playground designed to include special areas and equipment for children with autism, mobility challenges and physical and mental disabilities.

A grassroots group called the Clayton Community Recreational Foundation has been raising money to build this inclusive playground for more than five years. State grants, donations from Johnston County and even fundraising by N.C. State University Park Scholars have raised $600,000.

Raleigh musician Chris Hendricks said the playground will serve more people than most realize. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 4 years old and now is father to a 15-month-old daughter. Hendricks said he has always lived in fear, wondering how he would be able to play with his daughter, chase her or catch her when she fell.

“While this playground means so much for young people with conditions, it also means so much for people like myself…parents who have conditions with children who may or may not,” said Hendricks. “Because now there is a space, there is a place, there is a community where I can take my daughter and I can chase her and I can play catch with her. And while I may still not be able to catch her, I will know she’s in a place where if she does fall, she will land safely in the arms of your playground.”

Clayton town spokeswoman Stacy Beard said there are 300,000 people living within 20 miles of Clayton and at least 4,000 children with disabilities. These are 4,000 children who can’t play at most typical playgrounds and may now have a chance to play on the Harmony Playground.

Organizers hope the playground will open by the late summer or early fall of 2020.

Groundbreaking sponsors like the Woman’s Club of Clayton and Clayton Civitan Club each donated $10,000. And during the ceremony, Northeast Foods handed speaker and foundation chairman Dean Penny a check for $25,000.

Earlier this year, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners pledged $100,000 to the playground in the county’s 2019-20 budget. The town of Clayton received a Connect N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant for $89,810 to put toward the project. And Clayton Parks & Recreation also won a GameTime grant, bringing in $55,000 to $60,000 in savings from this playground equipment manufacturer.

The N.C. State University Park Scholars class of 2019 designed and built musical pieces for the playground and also raised $7,000 for the park. Studies show the children with disabilities or autism benefit from interacting with audible and tactile elements, especially visually impaired children.

Local industries like Caterpillar, the naming sponsor, as well as Novo Nordisk, pledged support early on and are still involved with the project.

The town of Clayton provided the land for the playground and will be responsible for maintaining it, including adding expanded parking and updated restrooms through the town budget and an upcoming parks bond being brought to voters on Nov. 5.

The Clayton Community Recreational Foundation held a golf tournament and gala on Saturday to push the project toward its $1 million fundraising goal. Clayton native and Major League Baseball pitcher Chris Archer was honored at the gala and the keynote speaker was Lauren Potter from the TV show “Glee.”

People can also buy a brick and their name will be a permanent part of the playground. They may also purchase a T-shirt or simply donate.

“Finding ways to include children of all abilities and teaching typically able-bodied children how to interact with these exceptional children is so important in building a better community,” said Beard. “Thank you to all of the moms, families, community volunteers and businesses and others who have supported this dream. Let’s join them to make it a reality.”

Visit www.HarmonyPlayground.org and like the playground’s Facebook page for more information.

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