City of Portage, Indiana

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Family with Portage ties opens the Midwest's first all-inclusive playground at Founders Square

Northwest Indiana Times 

Bob Kasarda, 219-548-4345
Oct 31, 2017 Updated Nov 2, 2017

hannahs hope playground

PORTAGE — Just moments after Reuben Martinez cut the ribbon, marking the opening of an all-inclusive playground at Founders Square Park, the 8-year-old Valparaiso resident was given an even more important assignment.

"Reuben, turn that chair around and lead all these kids out here to play," yelled an announcer.

The 17,500-square-foot playground was soon full of children and adults, getting their first shot at playing on the various equipment designed to be welcoming to everyone, no matter what their special needs.

The park is the result of an idea Liberty Township resident Mary Martinez had seven years ago, while she was visiting a Schererville playground with her daughter Hannah, who died at the age of 3 after living with special needs, likely due to a prenatal stroke.

"We were sitting with Hannah noticing how little equipment there is for kids with special needs," said her father Mike Martinez.

The couple, which formed the nonprofit Hannah's Hope to assist area children with special needs, began raising funds and have created the first fully accessible playground in the Midwest.

"It's a bittersweet day," Mike said. "I wish Hannah was here to share it with us."

Hannah's influence was felt strong at the site Sunday, according to Portage Mayor James Snyder.

"Today, this mayor says thank you," he said. "You empowered this community like no other."

Portage donated the land and will maintain the park.

Valparaiso resident Kelly Martinez, mother of Reuben, but no relation to the founders of the park, voiced hope that the site will finally provide a way for her three children to bring their lives and friends together in a shared interest.

The park will also bring together the parents of children with special needs, she said.

Reuben, who was born with a genetic disorder involving the brain that has left him using a wheelchair, was all smiles as he tested out the new equipment with his family.

"He loves motion," said his father, Steve Martinez. "He loves movement."

Each piece of equipment is marked with a QR code, designed to be read with smartphones, which reveal how they can be used, said Park Superintendent Jenny Orsburn.

Yet the equipment, which is positioned over a pliable surface designed to cushion falls, can be enjoyed by children of all capacities.

"So brothers and sisters can play together," she said.

The equipment can be used for therapy or for just plain fun, said Niki Avina, board secretary for Hannah's Hope.

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