'We're going to change the world one playground at a time'

'We're going to change the world one playground at a time'

PORTLAND, Ore. - "With this playground we are breaking down and smashing one of the last remaining barriers in our community."

Those words from City Commissioner Nick Fish expressed the sentiment of everyone who had gathered at Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland on Friday to break ground on something special.

"With this park all of our children, regardless of their abilities, will play together," Fish, who heads up Portland Parks & Recreation, added. "And that is a great gift to Portland."

That gift is a playground that will be specifically geared towards kids with disabilities so they will have the chance to play along with everyone else.

It's an idea that has been two years in the making and the family of 7-year-old Harper Goldberg, who has a rare condition called Emanuel Syndrome has been putting everything they have into making it come to fruition.

Harper loves spending time at Arbor Lodge Park, which is just a few blocks from her home. But her mobility is limited, which makes it hard for her to play with the other kids in the playground.

Not wanting their daughter to feel excluded, the Goldberg family spearheaded a non-profit called Harper's Playground to try to make a change.

It's an idea that's not hard to get behind. Everyone has probably felt left out at some point in their lives and Rabbi Ariel Stone from the Congregation Shir Tikvah called on folks at the groundbreaking to think about how that feels.

"Have you ever been left out of anything?" she told the crowd. "Have you ever been the one that was left while everybody else was running to do something and they didn't even notice you? Have you ever felt that way?"

"All of us need to be part of a community that notices when one of us is hanging back," she added. "That notices when one of us is having trouble keeping up. That notices that we are less than whole if somebody is not with us a hundred percent."

And that has been the driving force behind the entire effort - creating an environment for kids that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.

"Inclusion starts with play and it builds from there," supporter Dean Westwood with OHSU said at the groundbreaking. "I would challenge you all when you think about disability and you think about inclusion, just think about how diverse your families are and every diverse person you meet on a daily basis. And when you think about that, you'll think about the common sense of accessible playgrounds and accessible areas."

Ever since the Goldbergs spearheaded the project, the community has really stepped up to the plate in a big way to help get Harper's Playground off the ground and some of the biggest supporters were at Friday's groundbreaking.

The Timbers Army has been one of those at the forefront. They've helped raise thousands of dollars through the sale of Harper's Playground scarves. Anyone who goes to the games at JELD-WEN has probably seen lots of people wearing them.

For the Timbers Army's Felicia Chapman, who has also been serving on the board of directors for Harper's Playground, the cause has touched her heart.

"I have a sister with a disability so the word 'accessible' resonates with me in a way that maybe it doesn't with other people," she said. "I don't just think about the physical access to a place, I think about the fact that you get the opportunity to partake in that space, to meet people, to learn about them, to talk to them, to love and think about your community. And through all of that, grow your community. And that's what this playground is going to do."

The Timbers Army's charitable arm, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, has also pledged to raise another $40,000 for the playground by this August. That's in addition to the $25,000 they donated last year.

The University of Portland's women's soccer team, the Portland Pilots, which have also been involved in the effort, were also represented at the groundbreaking by player Taylor Brooke. "I can't wait for the playground to be complete so we can see the product of two years of hard work and dedication." she said.

Brooke has also been working as an intern for Harper's Playground and said she couldn't have asked for a better organization to be a part of. It's a sentiment that many who have been involved in the effort share.

"I just think it's such a worthy cause," said Glen Boyd with the W. Glen Boyd Charitable Foundation, which has helped with the funding. "If you have a charitable foundation, you're always looking for those right kind of things that you get passionate about," he added. "And this is one of them."

There is still time to help out if you want to get involved. Goldberg said while the project is officially getting started, they do need some more money to make sure it gets finished.

"We haven't reached our goal 100 percent, so hopefully folks will be inspired to help out and with all the leftovers, we'll put that into the next one."

And if the Goldbergs have anything to do with it, there will definitely be a next one. "We're going to change the world one playground at a time - absolutely," Goldberg said.

There is also an 'Art Takeover' poster show coming up on August 4 that will help raise money for Harper's Playground. Around 30 local designers and artists have created Timbers-Army designs that will be on display and then sold. All of the proceeds will be earmarked for the playground.

One final note - Friday's groundbreaking was also a birthday celebration for Harper, who turned seven years old on June 8. There was a special Harper's Playground cake for her and everyone sang 'Happy Birthday' to the little girl who was the inspiration behind it all. And the fun for Harper and her family will continue Friday night with a special concert put on by the Portland School of Rock.