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Twin-Boro News - 9/7/2017

BERGENFIELD -- Once her shoes came off, there was nothing to hold back Lynn Williams from splashing around in the spray fountain at Veterans Memorial Park.

Lynn, 22, has autism, cerebral palsy and periodic seizures. She cannot talk, but as she waved her arms under the splash pad's nozzles on Aug. 30, her smile spoke volumes.

All handicapped children and young adults now have the same full, unfettered access to the splash pad, thanks to a new ramp and sidewalk installed there.

On Aug. 30, Lynn's grandmother, Linda Williams, and several other members of the borough's Barrier-Free Committee dedicated the new park improvements during a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"This is something that needed to be done," said Williams, who chairs the committee.

Citing statistics she said she received from local schools, Williams said there are about 600 children with special needs in Bergenfield. That does not include children enrolled in private schools, nor those under 3 years old.

Borough Council President Arvin Amatorio, who attended the ceremony with Councilman Buddy Deauna, said officials have made handicap-accessibility a priority.

By the end of the year, 324 new sidewalk ramps will have been installed throughout the borough since the beginning of 2016, Amatorio said.

"We have a very diverse town," Mayor Norman Schmelz said. "We've made it a point to reach out to all citizens."

Schmelz credited the committee with the park improvements, saying its members took the project "by the horns."

Public works crews poured a cement walk directly to the splash pad where there had been no path at all. The crumb-rubber surface of the pad was also replaced and raised in one corner to make it accessible for people confined to wheelchairs.

Williams said her granddaughter's plight -- doctors told the family that Lynn would never walk -- was the inspiration for the park improvements.

"Unless you live it," Williams said about having a relative with a disability, "you don't understand the turmoil it can bring a family."

Williams said Lynn's condition has improved steadily over time. But, she said, that doesn't erase the need for projects like the one recently finished at the park.

Williams and her fellow committee members hope it is just the start of something more.

A sensory garden is planned that would have flowers and other blossoming plants, Williams said. It would also have an oversized tic-tac-toe board and instruments, such as bells, bongo drums and a xylophone.

Children and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, sometimes have dysfunctional sensory systems, making them over- or under-reactive to stimulation, according to the Autism Research Institute.

The council has also applied for a $31,338 grant from the Bergen County Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, Farmland & Historic Preservation Trust Fund for playground equipment, including a swing with a wheelchair platform, for children with special needs.

The grant, if received, would only cover half of the cost of the playground equipment, Williams said.

Barry Doll, a former councilman and secretary of the committee, said charity events are being organized to raise money for future park improvements.

Doll said the committee initiated a buy-a-brick campaign -- engraved bricks to be laid at the sensory garden -- and a classic car show is also being scheduled.



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