A Coal City Village Board meeting was the formal culmination for a local woman’s decade-old dream for her sons.
Brittney Kaluzny of Coal City was present on Wednesday as the board voted unanimously to accept a donation of specialized playground equipment from Hope Helps, a Grundy-based non-profit organization founded by Kaluzny in 2011.
The new playground equipment is an addition to the Hope Helps All Inclusive Playground on South Illinois St. in Coal City, which opened in 2016. The park is designed to give people on the autistic spectrum a safe place to have fun with friends and family.
According to the organization’s Facebook page, Hope Helps also raises funds for communication devices, equipment and medical intervention for children and adults diagnosed with autism and related illnesses. Kaluzny said she estimates that the organization has presented nearly 50 scholarships and grants to area families over the last five years.
Kaluzny’s journey toward founding Hope Helps began 10 years ago when her eldest son Robert David, now 11, was diagnosed with autism. His little brother Zeke would also be diagnosed years later.
“We were told we could go to Chicago, Springfield or Kankakee to get resources. It’s difficult for children with autism to go on long car drives, so we looked for something more local," Kaluzny said.
These resources included access to playground equipment friendly to those with autism: Swings with a back to support core muscles, padded rubber floors and secure railings to prevent injury, and wheel-chair accessible structures.
After being disenfranchised with non-profit’s that only truly donated around five percent of their revenue to families, Kaluzny said she decided to found Hope Helps in 2011 to be a 100% non-profit and to help create a local all inclusive park.
It took four years and hundreds of volunteer hours to raise the money and install the equipment but finally, in 2016, Hope Helps All Inclusive Park was born complete with swings and a zip line.
“In about three months I realized we needed more,” Kaluzny said with a laugh.
So began “Phase Two.”
This time around the objective was adding four bright yellow and blue structures: The star emblazoned Sensory Tunnel, the four-person Wee-saw with back support seats, the wheel-chair accessible tilting boat, and the Global Spinner.
Through several large donations from corporations such as the Norwek Foundation and Cardinal Transport, Hope Helps was able to raise the $70,000 for phase two in just one year.
On July 6, Hope Helps All Inclusive Park Re-opened with face-painting, balloon art and plenty of drinks to combat the intense heat.
“It was awesome,” Kaluzny said, “There were a couple of adults on the spectrum enjoying who were just smiling ear to ear. They were so happy.”
Kaluzny said she remembers her heart swelling when she saw a grandfather with Alzheimer’s swinging in the supported seat right next to his grandson in a non-supported one. She says that’s the culture of inclusivity she wants the park to bring.
“People with different abilities play in different ways but we all want to have fun together. This park gives people that opportunity,” Kaluzny said.
Kaluzny said there will undoubtedly be a “Phrase Three” to add even more equipment, but she isn’t sure when that will be. In the meantime, Hope Helps will continue taking applications for scholarships.
For more information on Hope Helps, visit http://www.hopehelpsautismawareness.org/.