NEW BREMEN — Though Camryn Murgatroyd could never talk, walk or feed herself, she lived her life smiling and giggling, and though she passed away in 2009 at 5-years-old, her aunt, Kristin Hough, knew Camryn had more of an impact to make on the world.
“It’s strange to say, but I felt her tug on me when I was at the funeral home going, ‘Sissy, sissy, help me, I’m not done yet,’” Hough, New Bremen–New Knoxville Rotary Sunshine Project Committee Chair, said. “I said, ‘Camryn, I hear you, honey, but you’ve got to give me time. I don’t know what you want.’”
Hough returned to the New Bremen–New Knoxville Rotary Club with a desire to do something for special needs children.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to do something for special needs kids in this area. We live in rural America, there’s nothing for special needs in rural America and we have to change it right here in Auglaize County today,” Hough said. “We have to change the way that rural America sees special needs. They don’t just live in Columbus. They don’t just live in Cincinnati. They live everywhere. We need to welcome them and make them a part of the community.”
Three years and $250,000 later, Hough saw Camryn’s impact continue with the opening of the New Bremen–New Knoxville Rotary Sunshine Playground Saturday morning, the only handicapped-accessible playground in a 70-mile radius. The playground features a rubber surface, ramps, wide walkways and special swings.
The New Bremen-New Knoxville Rotary Club celebrated the occasion at Bremenfest Park with a ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday morning featuring remarks from Hough, Sunshine Playground Committee Member Chris Killian and proclamations from New Bremen Village Council President Don Kuck, State Rep. Robert Sprague and State Sen. Keith Faber. Sunshine Playground Committee Member Scott Frey served as master of ceremonies for the event.
Hough got the idea to bring a handicapped-accessible playground to the area after recalling Camryn’s first giggle on a similar playground in Newark. After her initial plea to the New Bremen–New Knoxville Rotary Club for a change for special needs children, Hough formed a committee and gathered information for the project, which the club agreed to pursue in 2010.
“I have to give credit to this club for voting to support this project at the heart of a recession when we told them we were going to need $250,000 and we didn’t have a penny,” she said.
“But I believed and they all believed and that’s the key to success.”
Two years of planning and fundraising and a spring build led to the opening of the playground Saturday, but the Sunshine Project, Hough said, goes beyond the playground.
“The Sunshine Project isn’t just the accessible playground,” Hough said.
“We have our website, where we have our links to tons of specialists for all kinds of special needs diagnosis, links to hospitals, links to therapists, links to support groups. So, if your child has special needs, you can go find it on there and it will send you to all these links. If your child’s diagnosis is not on there, then just e-mail us to our e-mail address, which is on the webpage, and we’ll find the information and make sure it gets on there for you. We’ll do our best to find you the support groups because it’s your job to take care of those children.”
The group also has a Facebook page and medical equipment available.
“We also have our Facebook page, where we share inspirational quotes, families share stories,” she said, noting a sensory needs movie showing recently held in Wapakoneta that was publicized on the Facebook page.
“We also have several pieces of medical equipment. We have amazing wheelchairs, walkers and standing boards for children that are ready to go if a child needs them and they’re waiting for insurance to come through.”
Hough said the playground will also help educate others about special needs children.
“I think one of the most amazing therapies that’s going to come out of this playground is the education,” she said. “The education that our children who do not have special needs are going to get from the children that do.”
The children that play on the Rotary Sunshine Playground, she said, will be changed.
“Today is a day of change,” Hough said.
“The children who play on this playground today will never be the same. Their lives will be changed in one way or another — whether it’s the first time they’ll be able to swing in their lives or ride in a handicapped-accessible merry-go-round or go down an accessible slide that has the transfer platforms, or maybe it’s the children who live their lives blessed and do not have to face special needs, but now they get to see how other kids have challenges playing. They’ll take that back and our children will then educate us on what we don’t understand or what we don’t see as adults.”
She credited the positive change to the support the playground received.
“It’s a blessing today because that change is happening because of all of you — not just New Bremen, not just New Knoxville, not just western Ohio,” she said.
“Our first grant came from Columbus, Ohio, because they knew the abilities of accessible play from the city and they wanted to help us bring that here. That says a lot.”
Hough encouraged anyone that has a passion to go out and do something about it.
“Life is too short to wait for somebody else to do something for us or for our neighbors,” Hough said. “Be the change that you want to see. Be the change that you need done ... You keep on fighting and you keep on plugging along. And that’s what you have to do. Do not be afraid to fail because you think something needs done.”
Hough also had a message for the children.
“To the kids here today, I’d like to say to you — special needs or not — never give up and never give in. Keep on fighting,” she said.
“You might not be the best baseball player or horseback rider because of your challenges, but as long as you set goals, and you work hard, and you meet your goals, then you are the best that there is and the best that there will ever be. And we couldn’t be more proud of you for that.”
Hough cut the ribbon to the Rotary Sunshine Playground with area village officials, Sunshine Committee members and children by her side before the children took over the playground to “It’s My Life,” a song by Camryn’s favorite band, Bon Jovi.
For more information about the Rotary Sunshine Project, visit RotarySunshineProject.org.