By Bob Uphues
Six-year-old Parker Ramirez lives down the street from Ehlert Park in Brookfield and, according to his mom, would spend every waking moment there if he could. Like lots of kids, when he was smaller, Parker enjoyed the baby swings at Ehlert and Kiwanis parks.
Now that he's older, however, Parker can't fit in the smaller swings and he can't use the ones for older kids. Parker has a brain disorder called hypoplasia of the corpus callosum, and he's not strong enough to sit in a regular swing.
So for the past year or so, Parker has had to content himself with watching his friends swing through the air, laughing and clapping at their fun. There's an adaptive swing at his school in Darien and there's another at Gordon Park in LaGrange, but there was nothing in Brookfield – until early September.
Right before Labor Day, Brookfield Public Works employees installed one adaptive swing each at Ehlert and Kiwanis Park, giving Parker an opportunity to pursue one of his favorite pastimes close to home.
"Now Parker is able to play with his friends on the swings," said his mom, Christine Ramirez, who approached the village's recreation department about the possibility of installing an adaptive swing at Ehlert Park about a year ago.
She had seen that other park districts and municipalities had inclusive playground equipment, and figured she'd ask about the possibility of getting something installed in Brookfield.
But she never got a response, and when she followed up, she learned the former department head had retired. Ramirez's request had fallen through the cracks.
When Stevie Ferrari came aboard as the village's new recreation director in July, Ramirez figured she'd make her pitch again.
"She acted extremely quickly," Ramirez said. "I was shocked. She was so responsive."
Ferrari said when she got Ramirez's phone message about having asked about adaptive swings previously, she reached out to Public Works Director Amy Wagner, who confirmed there was nothing in the pipeline.
So the two worked together to locate and install the two bucket swings, which have overhead harnesses to secure children ages 5 to 12 and up to 150 pounds.
The village purchased the swings from Nu Toys at a cost of about $700 each, said Ferrari. They are the first adaptive swings ever purchased by the village.
"It's an important item in terms of inclusive offerings for the community," said Ferrari. "And they're not just for those with developmental needs. There are those with sensory issues, as far as being in an open swing. The harness allows them to feel more secure in the swing."
Ramirez says Parker is already a regular user of the new swings, both in Ehlert Park and in Kiwanis Park, which they visit on Saturdays when they go to the farmers market at village hall. Ramirez says she sees other kids also using the swings.
"We were out there as soon as they were installed," Ramirez said. "Parker enjoys being outdoors every single minute of the day."