Every day at Friendship Circle Los Angeles is supposed to be fun, but July 21 was full of more smiles than usual during the groundbreaking of My Backyard, a playground for children of all abilities.
The $255,000 project — much if not all of which planners expect to be completed by Rosh Hashanah — will feature, among other things, a recessed carousel (so the platform is flush with the ground and accessible to wheelchairs and walkers) and spinning apparatuses meant to calm those with autism and sensory issues.
Friendship Circle, an international project of Chabad, is a nonprofit Jewish organization that offers educational and enrichment programs for special-needs children and their families. In Los Angeles, there are about 400 teen, young adult and adult volunteers helping the 140 families who belong to the organization. Many are paired with volunteers who help them play and interact socially.
The playground at the organization’s South Robertson Boulevard campus is being funded in part by an $80,000 grant from the Real Estate Principals Organization (RPO) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Other funds have come from private donors. So far, Friendship Circle has raised $180,000 for the project, according to Chana Fogelman, director of public relations and senior program coordinator for Friendship Circle of Los Angeles.
RPO helped find the architect, David Johnson, who donated his time. Jon Monkarsh, a former chair of RPO, said the project fills a real void in the community.
My Backyard will offer features that many other parks don’t have, such as a sand-and-water play structure for children who need sensory integration, officials said.
Miriam Rav-Noy, who established the organization in Los Angeles with her husband, Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, said they have wanted to create such a playground for children with special needs for some time.
She said that it is important so that “kids who have special needs can interact with kids of typical abilities and be able to enjoy the activities together. They should be able to get what they need in a safe environment that is enriching.”
Rabbi Rav-Noy said that those without “access to Jewish education, who have very little access to Jewish friends, will now be able to enhance their experience through play and through interaction with other -children.”
The recent celebration was filled with speeches, laughter and the classic shovel-in-dirt picture. And, like any Jewish celebration, there was music, dancing and food.
Although the forthcoming park is only dirt right now, officials hope that in about a month it will be filled with a garden, water play tables, integration carousels, a friendship bench and tree, and much more. The park will be open to the public during specific hours, as well as to other services that help children with special needs.
Behzad Kianmahd, a parent who spoke at the groundbreaking, said he’s excited about the possibilities that the new playground will offer his son, Natanel, who has Down syndrome.
“In this environment, and particularly in this park, he’s going to get attention from everybody — the kids who are participating and also the volunteers. So that will make a big difference for him.”
The Kianmahds have been involved with Friendship Circle for a few years, and Behzad Kianmahd said it has made a big difference in his son’s life.
“When he spends time at Friendship Circle, he really feels that he has his own environment and is not tied to us,” he said. “Like any teenager, he wants his own circle of friends and family.”