Why Bennett’s Village?

picture of Bennett enjoying the glider at Park365

We asked two fans of Bennett’s Village to write about why they think it is important to build a place where ALL can play. Here are their responses:

Molly Carter (Bottle Tree Consulting):

When I look back on my childhood, it’s funny, thinking about the things I felt like I was “supposed to enjoy” simply because my able-bodied peers seemed to love it.

 [Or, perhaps even love it most of the time, if they didn’t enjoy it.]

Don’t get me wrong. This post is not yet another ableism rant.

I had a wonderful, happy, very engaging childhood with intelligent, perceptive, kind childhood friends, considerate peers in my school and extra-curricular activities, a loving, present family, very solid, supportive teachers, and, due to my socio-economic placement, so many resources readily available to me. I cannot dismiss or deny those facts. I am incredibly lucky and will remain deeply thankful.

It gets more complicated, trickier, though, when I realize how blurred that line is between the things I really did enjoy and the things I found difficult, or tiring, or even just draining, due to constraints of some limited mobility. Because, while I loved the socialization and community that some of those things- whether they be spaces, activities, or even certain kinds of rituals, brought me- I did experience them differently than the majority of my peers.

Notice that I say differently- not better, not worse, not with more or less intensity or negativity, (because, truly who can be the judge of that? Least of all me.) but differently.

That’s just the fact of the matter.

What I’m talking about specifically today, is a space. It is a playground. It feels odd now to even type that sentence, given that I haven’t been to one in quite some time.

Thanks to my lovely boss, I became aware of a project called Bennett’s Village.

I was even more intrigued and impressed when I learned how Bennett’s Village mission is not merely to talk the talk, but walk the walk. Literally. Let me explain.

This is not meant to be a playground just for some kids with certain, perhaps more visible and obvious, limitations or disabilities. Bennett’s Village is determined to be inclusive for ALL differences, whether that’s physical mobility, sensory, or even learning differences.

It is also meant for all ages, as well. When hearing of this, I was elated. The fact that this space is inclusive of all abilities, but, on top of that, it encourages people of all ages and all stages of life to engage playfully with every child.

Bennett’s Village spoke to me for three specific reasons. One, (1) because I had heard of areas like it, in passing, but only in reference to other, more prominent areas or states. Never close to my hometown. At least, not when I was able to go to a playground. Years later I discovered that now I actually do live close to an all-abilities friendly playground, but by then I looked at it as something that would have just been nice to have when I was a child and not something of real use to me. Sad, I know, but alas, that’s how I came to view it. Even still, I shouldn’t dismiss the sheer joy I feel from knowing that yet another fully accessible space is not just being considered for disabled children and their families, but actively constructed and built with them specifically in mind. That is wonderful. And it’s encouraging to me as a disabled adult. Two, (2) because I get the satisfaction of seeing a younger generation (or younger generations) experience a place where they can practice all sorts of inclusive activities, without adults pushing a certain “agenda” or message upon them, because they’ll be able to just play. This doesn’t require a huge lecture, but rather just the construction of a space that is, by nature, fully accessible to everyone. This brings me to my third and final point, that is twofold: When I hear about a place like Bennett’s Village, I feel, at first, equal parts excited and grateful. But then, I must admit, even (or perhaps especially) I feel a little bit (the teeniest bit) of frustration. This frustration is not at Bennett’s Village itself at all, but the fact that parks like these are built only occasionally. And yes, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the building of places like these is not fantastic progress.

However, I hasten to add, and I’d like to just give a (little sassy) reminder to able-bodied folks that it’d be a better world if we didn’t have to celebrate accessible spaces, and if, instead, they were actually the norm.

That way, disabled kids wouldn’t have to go searching a little further for places where they can fully be themselves.

Ella Farina:

Before the fall of 2019, my 8th grade year at Mountaintop Montessori,  I had no idea what an all-abilities playground was, let alone that they even existed. Looking back on this now, it stuns me. The idea that not all children in Charlottesville have a place where they can play and enjoy themselves is both very surprising and sad. However, thanks to Bennett’s Village, Charlottesville is hoping to build one soon.

I learned about Bennett’s Village through Mountaintop Montessori’s fall immersion week. Immersion week is an intensive community service focused exercise during which students focus on exploring ideas and solutions in a hands-on, practical way, usually with a community partner such as Bennett’s Village. That week was very eye-opening and inspiring for me. It was packed with new ideas about what an all-abilities park could look like and how it could really change and benefit Charlottesville and our community. 

One day of immersion week was focused on visiting the site, Pen Park, which is the future site of Bennett’s Village. Our teachers and mentors thought it would be a good idea to do a simulation activity to try to play at this park from a disabled person’s perspective. My classmates put on blindfolds, wore noise cancelling headphones, and others had to take a break in a quiet place every 5 minutes. This was a mere simulation, so we didn’t feel even close to what people with these disabilities were feeling, but this helped us to pinpoint areas in the park that we noticed were a real struggle for people with these disabilities.

We discovered that there are certain aspects to playgrounds that make them very difficult for everyone to play on. I would have never noticed them without this project. For example, the mulch! How is someone in a wheelchair supposed to get to the structures when the mulch is impossible to navigate with a wheelchair? Same with the tunnel that leads from one structure to another, or the loud toy instruments very close to the slides. These conditions and many more don’t make this park accessible to everyone.

On another day we went to Richmond to visit the PARK365. It is the closest all-abilities playground from Charlottesville, but still about an hour drive. Think about people who might not be able to drive and have to get the bus. A trip to PARK 365 would take so much longer and would be expensive. 

My classmates and I were inspired by this park. All of the details were so carefully planned out and created an incredible park. I had never seen anything like it, which is very sad. It had a swing for people in a wheelchair and had a calming area where people who needed to, could take a break. The aspect that I loved most was that it didn’t separate the structures that were designed for people with disabilities from the other structures. Everyone was together no matter their ability. I think Bennett’s Village will do amazing things for our community and will do an outstanding job, not separating, but bringing us all together even with our differences.