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Newberg Nazarene Church plans to complete it sometime in September on its property

COURTESY PHOTO: NNC - Once completed, the handicap-accessible park at Newberg Nazarene Church will get a layer of rubber mulch for safety.

Newberg will soon have its first handicap accessible playground — right here in town at a local church.

The playground, slated to be finished sometime in September at Newberg Nazarene Church, will have five separate structures: a wheelchair swing, a standard swing set, a wheel-through arcade (monkey bars, but lower to the ground), a wheelchair-accessible elevated sand table and a big fort-like structure. Upon completion, it will be 104 feet by 36 feet and covered with rubber mulch to enhance safety.

So far, volunteers have dug 30 holes and started inserting poles in the ground. The church has also built a new sidewalk to lead children from the parking lot to the backside of the building.

In total, the playground will cost $35,000, which was funded by donations and church funds. COURTESY PHOTO: NNC - Congregants have been gathering at the church on weekends to erect the playground equipment.

Only a few handicap accessible playgrounds exist in Oregon. The majority are in Portland and Eugene, with one in Salem.

"We have heard from parents of kids with special needs that they have to travel out of our community to find an accessible playground just so their child can play," John Leach, an associate pastor for the church, said in an email. "So, I think there is a need in our community (for a playground like this)."

Leach, who works part-time at the church as its pastor of compassionate ministries and assimilation for people with physical or intellectual challenges, was the one to propose such a playground around 18 months ago.

"I would love to say that the idea came from a community survey or a long-term strategic church plan," Leach said. "But it didn't. It was dreamed up by accident at the end of a church board meeting. It wasn't even on the agenda."

Leach simply mentioned during the meeting that the church's then-wooden play structure was decrepit and had become a liability. He asked to tear it down.

"Then I said, 'if we want to replace it, why don't we make a wheelchair-accessible playground so any child could play on it,'" Leach said.

The church board approached Pastor Dylon Brown, who in turn asked the congregation if they wanted to donate to the project. In response, attendees raised $9,000 in less than weeks.

"Even though we currently do not have a lot of children in our church (and did not know of any child in a wheelchair), we wanted to send a visible public statement to our community that our church loves children, even those with special needs," Leach said.

Since starting the project, however, the church has begun hosting the Arborez Homeschool group, compromised of 50 kids, once a week.

"I guess God knew that those kids needed a playground," Leach said. "This group is excited about the new playground and have sent volunteers to help build the playground."

"I work with the Newberg Church of the Nazarene to teach the congregation how to be more open, accommodating and loving to anyone with a physical or intellectual disability. It is my dream that people of all abilities would be fully welcomed and integrated into the life of our church. Not as a target of charity or pity but as someone who has something important to offer to our church."

Leach emphasized the need for diversity in the church.

"We want to be welcoming to everyone," he said. "Churches have not always been welcoming to those with disabilities. In fact, churches are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring basic accommodations. This should not be. Our church wants to change that."

A dedication or grand opening event for the community will likely be held once the playground is completed, but nothing has been planned yet.

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