The City of Conway revealed plans for their new inclusive playground a few weeks ago, but a recent donation via a local 501c3 group could vastly expand those plans.
Conway City Council approved working with Kompan, Inc., last month to design and build the playground for $197,293. They hope to begin building by the end of this month, next to the existing playground and shelter structure by the Conway Recreation Center on Mill Pond Road.
The park will include a softer turf-base, and according to the project’s request for proposals (RFP), the playground will also include the following pieces: shade structures; accessible slides; sensory pieces; musical pieces; swings (platform, harness, supportive and typical); rockers; a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round; and a track slider.
Thanks to a generous donation of $100,000 to Conway Cares by local residents Kevin and April McHugh, the park can include much more.
Conway Cares, the 501c3 nonprofit started after Hurricane Florence by Conway residents Justin Jordan, Joe Mogus and Stephen Anderson, is happy to be able to help.
Jordan, who served on the city council’s committee to help develop the playground and works in the medical equipment field, said he has worked with children with disabilities for a long time.
“It’s [the playground] is something I’ve wanted to see for some time now,” Jordan said.
Conway Cares decided that they could be the conduit for donations to help further future phases of the playground, but Jordan never imagined to get a call about such a generous donation so quickly.
Jordan said he was “shocked, overwhelmed, and extremely grateful” to hear about the McHugh’s wish to help. His first response to the donation, according to McHugh, was “Are you serious?”
“I think I went silent for a few moments. I’m usually not one who has issues with what to say but I was completely speechless,” Jordan said.
City Administrator Adam Emrick is excited for the future of the playground.
“I think it’s awesome. I really do. We’ve put a lot of heart and soul into that playground committee. It’s been a dream for a number of years. We always wanted to be able to put more money from the city behind it,” Emrick said. “This gives us the chance to make it a bigger, better, nicer park right from the get-go.”
April McHugh’s nine-year-old daughter Layla is the reason behind their donation.
Layla has Pitt Hopkins syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that renders her non-verbal, and she is on the autism spectrum. Most children with Pitt Hopkins have global developmental delays, but her father, Horry County Police Department Capt. Johnny Harrelson, said she has a very happy disposition.
“We are super excited for this,” Harrelson said about the playground.
McHugh and her husband Kevin owned Embrace Hospice in Conway, and Mr. McHugh said that when they sold part of Embrace to Crescent Hospice, they wanted to do something special with part of the proceeds.
“We wanted to give back. We were blessed by the people of Horry County and Conway and that’s what helped us grow the hospice to what it is today,” Mr. McHugh said.
Working in the medical field, the McHughs see many family situations.
“When you’re part of this network … I get to see this every day, the kids and all the challenges,” Mr. McHugh said.
Mrs. McHugh said they just wanted to be a part of something in the community that all three of her children (Layla, along with 11-year-old Maggie and seven-year-old Brady) could enjoy.
“Our normally-abled kids get told no a lot because Layla can’t go [certain places],” Mrs. McHugh said. “Anything we can do to help the community include kids like Layla and include other children too, and help them understand things. The more understanding we can bring, the better.”
As for what they hope their donation adds to the playground plans, McHugh isn’t picky.
“We don’t care – the more the better. We just love she is going to be able to reach everything. Whether it is one new piece or 100, we’re thrilled,” Mrs. McHugh said.
There just aren’t words to describe seeing all three of her children being able to play together in one place, Mrs. McHugh said.
“They include [Layla] in everything. They love when we can go down to Savannah’s Playground. Maggie will take her away and just go play. They won’t even ask for help unless they need to get her out of her chair. It’s an incredibly cool thing to see as a parent,” Mrs. McHugh said.
Mr. McHugh said so many parks are based with sawdust or sand, and wheelchairs can’t get in easily.
“As the child grows, they also get too heavy to carry. This [playground] makes a big difference,” Mr. McHugh said.
He said he wants to challenge Conway to make this playground as impressive as Savannah’s Playground for children in this area.
“We did what we did because it’s what we believe in, it’s not about people telling us thank you,” Mr. McHugh said.
Emrick said it’s nice for the community to be able to challenge each other to help.
“We know we have an underserved community. Everyone’s wanted to do something more … the budget behind it has always been tricky,” Emrick said.
Anyone who wants to donate toward future phases of the inclusive playground can do so through the Conway Cares Facebook page or its website at www.conwaycares.net