A New Accessible Community Park In W. Rogers Park
On Sunday, November 13, 2022, over 300 community members, donors, and dignitaries joined together to dedicate Gan Avigail, a new outdoor community park at the Rogers Park Campus made possible by the Rothner family and other generous supporters in our community. This new construction features two fully accessible playgrounds, playing fields, an outdoor pavilion, and an accessible walking path.
Pam Lookatch, a consultant on the project, shares why this accessible park is so close to her heart:
“I feel so fortunate to finally see this magnificent outdoor accessible park and playground built. Gan Avigail is an extraordinary contribution to the Rogers Park community. Walking distance for use on Shabbos, accessible and inclusive for children of all abilities to play with friends, a great gathering spot for families before and after preschool at Bernard Horwich JCC and an amazing addition to support the programming of Apachi Rogers Park during the summer.
It is not every day that you can be intimately involved in a work project that touches your life so deeply. But that is the case for me as I’ve worked with JCC Chicago and JUF over the past few years to fundraise and plan for the opening of Gan Avigail. I am so proud of the beautiful outcome of our work together for this community to enjoy.
The reason this project is so important to me is because I have a daughter, Emma, who is now 17, but was born premature and has Cerebral Palsy. Emma has never been able to run around the park like her typically developing peers, but once upon a time she would have loved to have had a community playground like this one to play on. Emma is fortunate enough to be able to walk but uses a walker to get around school at Ida Crown and uses a wheelchair for community ambulation like going to the park, taking a stroll on the community walking path and socializing outdoors with friends at camp. When she was younger and did spend many of her summer days as an Apachi camper, it was very stressful and anxiety provoking for her to play on the playground. She can walk slowly and needs assistance to climb, so being on the playground equipment with other children running circles around her is a very scary experience.
As a lifelong Apachi camper, Emma was always provided the assistance she needed to participate in every outdoor activity that she wanted to be a part of. The partnership between JCC Chicago and Keshet is remarkable, but having an accessible playground like this one would have made Emma’s camp experience that much stronger. She would have been able to independently use the playground and have age-appropriate conversations and social experiences with her friends without needing an aide by her side. That is a game changer for a kid like Emma and so many children in our community. Inclusion is not just about including people of all abilities in daily activities, but it is about making daily activities accessible to all.
The J and partner organizations, like the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Yashar Initiative and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, who have provided critical funding for the accessible equipment on this playground, have helped make children of all abilities dreams come true. No child should have to feel scared or overwhelmed on the playground because they don’t move as fast or as smoothly as others. And now in Rogers Park, they don’t have to. Thanks to these organizations, the Rothner family and this community for their support, kids of all abilities will only feel joy on the playground.
It has been a true joy and obviously a passion of mine as a fundraiser to see this park come together for the community, for kids like Emma and for everyone who will enjoy it. Working to build something that benefits a whole community, including those who have different abilities, is heartwarming. The fact that JCC Chicago was so passionate about creating this neighborhood gem and making it accessible for all is what makes the J a place for the whole community to come together. Capital projects take a long time and a lot of effort, and it is so wonderful today to see such a positive and beautiful end result which is truly an asset to this community.”