Santa Barbara- S County

Young girl sings her heart out to raise money for Santa Barbara's first adaptive playground

Gwendolyns Playground

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A community effort is underway to build Santa Barbara's first adaptive playground and 8-year-old Anja Firestone is helping raise money through her music that has a special message for all of us.

Firestone and her music teacher Erland Wanberg wrote a song together called "Where We Belong" about the importance of inclusion, and kindness.

The lyrics are simple, but the message is powerful.

"It's saying, 'I want to go to my imaginary place where I'm happy and nobody can bully me," Firestone said.   

The song is available on iTunes and a portion of the proceeds will go towards the construction of an inclusive playground founded by the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation through a partnership with The City of Santa Barbara. 

"I think they should have a playground where they can run, play, go on the slide and do stuff like that, where it's not that hard for people," said Firestone.

Her father, Andrew Firestone said his daughter is taking what she's learned about inclusion at school and putting it in her own words.

"It's a very proud daddy moment to see her put this together because it means a lot to her and she's obviously proud when she gets to sing it," he said.

Victoria Strong, along with her husband Bill, created the foundation after their daughter Gwendolyn was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA, the number one genetic killer of young children.

Strong said, Firestone's song is an example of what the foundation and the playground are all about.

"She sings it so confidently and she's using it as an opportunity to give back and build a place where we belong," Strong said.

The playground has been years in the making and will be constructed at Dwight Murphy Field.

It will be named "Gwendolyn's Playground," after Gwendolyn who defied the odds and lived to be seven years old. 

"Gwendolyn loved to play. She was a social butterfly and a natural ambassador for inclusion," Strong said.

After the foundation funded research for a cure for SMA, it set it's sights on building a playground that goes beyond federal guidelines.

"All playgrounds are ADA compliant but that standard is so incredibly low. All that means is that a child can get into the playground. It doesn't require that they actually can play on any piece of equipment," Strong said. "I actually think that's worse because to stare at a piece of equipment, and watch other children play is no way to create a sense of community."

The idea behind the playground will be to make all of the equipment accessible for wheelchairs and walkers, while providing a sensory rich environment for kids with other disorders like autism.

The hope is that Gwendolyn's Playground will grow into a gathering place for the entire community with other programs and outreach events.

"Gwendolyn had a beautiful life filled with kindness and acceptance and we feel every child should have that," Strong said.

The estimated cost of the playground is $4 million. So far, about $1 million has been raised.

If you would like to get involved or donate, download the song "Where We Belong," on iTunes or click here to be directed to the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation's website.




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