Friday, July 22, 2016

JoJo's Jungle

I've been a little silent lately here on my blog.  Life has been different.  We are no longer running to and from the hospitals on a daily basis.  I'm not running a "private duty nursing" business anymore just to keep my son alive.  I'm not  his nurse administering iv drugs and nutrition anymore.  I'm no longer a pharmacist mixing all his iv drugs and nutrition to the proper measurements.  I'm no longer called upon from the doctors asking "what do we do now." I'm just a mama now.  Josiah's life put a lasting impression on our lives and many in our community.  He always had a contagious smile and brought Joy into every room he entered.  Before Josiah passed away, he was eligible for make a wish.  My little miracle boy went home to Jesus before his real make a wish was granted.  Josiah loved being with his siblings, playing right along side them.  We always tried to take him to the playground, but it never worked out so great for us.  Josiah had special needs.  He couldn't walk, talk, or sit up in a swing very well.  He was also known as a "stuffer."  He would literally try to stuff his mouth with as much as he could no matter what it was.  Taking him to the local playgrounds was a nightmare.  Rocks, pebbles, wood chips, sand, rubber shavings--all acceptable playground surfacing-but not for us.  It never failed, if he was near it, he would choke.  My husband and I decided and vowed to JoJo before he passed away that we would build his friends an all-inclusive playground in his honor so that they could play alongside their friends and family and feel boundless.  For the last year and a half; with the help of our friends and family; We have designed a 2.5 million dollar playground for our miracle boy's honor.  It was no small feat to comb through and decide on every piece going into JoJo's Jungle.  I assure you, every detail has a purpose for our goal and vision. The vision for this playground is everywhere in the design.  To accomplish this, JoJo's Jungle contains three distinct age-appropriate play areas.   Every part of the one-acre park is made to capture the attention of distinct age groups.
The main "Jungle" area, for ages 5-12 years old, is ramped up to eight feet high with activities from top to bottom.  An additional ramp and transfer point continues to a slide tower up to 18 feet!  Also in this area is the "cave and waterfall slide" play set.  A sensory-rich feature that lets the imagination run free. 
Children 2-5 years old have their own imaginative and activity-packed accessible playground in the upper section.  It is surrounded by independent and cooperative play elements like the Dragonfly (see-saw) and merry-go-round. 
Parents with toddlers 6-23 months old have their own play area completely shaded from the sun!  (This area is also strategically placed closest to the restrooms.)  Youngsters can learn to navigate simple stairs, ramps, and shallow slides without being trampled by older children.  Sensory panels, toddler pull-up bars, and a log-tunnel provide natural barriers to slow children from running out to other areas.
Both halves of the park will include their own picnic areas with excellent visibility to nearby activities.  This is especially important in the younger age group.  Parents can sit back in the shade and have a clear line of sight 360 degrees to all of the activities their 2-5 year olds may be at. 
Lastly, but not to be understated, will be a truly unique Splash pad packed full of cause-and-effect learning, a sand play table (with water!), and a five piece percussion musical area.
And, there is one more thing… we're looking forward to children and parents learning about the Monarch Butterfly at our certified waystation and butterfly garden.  This will be the centerpiece that joins the two halves of the playground together in beauty and harmony! 
As JoJo's parents we are thrilled to be apart of this one of a kind all -inclusive playground destination.  As JoJo's mama, I want to see this playground become a reality.  I know some may think, why is this so important to them? Isn't it a little materialistic to worry about raising $2.5 million for a playground? What about eternity? How does this playground play a role in that?
Let me tell you why this playground is so very important to us. At the beginning of the design phase, I wanted pieces in the park that Josiah would have loved. Those pieces will be there, but JoJo will not be.  It took a good 6 months or more to realize that my son, my boy won't be at this park to enjoy it and feel boundless.  In that very thought, I was reminded that JoJo doesn't need a park to feel boundless. He is in heaven with Jesus; dancing, singing, running, eating, and talking.  Josiah is at the best all-inclusive playground we could dream up.  My miracle boy is in heaven with Jesus.  That thought brings me great joy and peace. 
 Josiah was a very unqiue little boy.  He was very special to us.  He opened my eyes to see the beauty in children with different needs.  Some of us get uncomfortable around other special needs children.  We don't know what to say or do.  It's uncomfortable to see someone different than "normal."  I was very guilty of this "awkwardness" before I was Josiah's mother.  The stares, the pointing, the whispers as one would walk past.  For one, I would like to say; it's ok to feel awkward, 2. It's ok to ask questions, please do, we always love to answer them and 3. these children are children that just want to be accepted and loved like the rest of them.  At the deepest most basic level this is what I see JoJo's Jungle becoming.  A place where everyone can feel welcome, accepted, loved, and have opportunities to learn about all sorts of different abilities that our kids have.  Some are simple, some are complex, some are normal, and some are not. When we were going through the hardest parts of Josiah's life; the last months of his life, I wrote these posts, here, and here describing what we went through. Surrendering my son's life over to my Great God was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Living the "special needs" life was and is not easy.  While other moms are planning meals, scheduling playdates, planning family vacations, and enjoying friendships. We couldn't and didn't, Other families like us, don't get to either.  Families with special needs children do not have this privilege.  Not only do these children want to feel accepted and feel like they belong; so do the parents.  I may not have my JoJo anymore, but that doesn't make me any less of a special needs mama.  Our lives are different than most.  We have needs as well.  I pray JoJo's Jungle will be that place where families could come together and feel safe, feel accepted, and feel loved by our community.  A place where families can learn about other's needs, learn to care about what you don't know or understand, and as a community learn how we can serve one another and build each other up in all aspects of children and family.  Whether you are a mama with typical developing children and you just need a breather or a mama with a critically ill child who desperately needs fellowship; JoJo's Jungle will be the place for you. 
My husband and I  have come to realize that this playground is no small feat.  We know we cannot build this playground without support from the community.  With our goal being $2.5 million, we still have $1.5 million dollars to raise in Just 9-10 months to make our ground breaking goal of May 21, 2017. This would have been JoJo's 5th birthday.  If we miss it and are still fundraising, we will  continue to stay the course until we have enough to make JoJo's Jungle a real destination here in Wausau, WI.  Please consider sharing our story all over to make JoJo's Jungle a reality in our community.  A destination that is needed here for all.  An all-inclusive playground that will bring families of all abilities together in one place to foster friendships, overcome fears, and for the children to feel boundless!!!