Location: Mount Laurel, N.J.
Kate Cummings’ son Jake was born with a congenital heart defect, and though he loved playing at the local playground, he was never able to keep up with the other kids. “He never really realized that he wasn’t like everyone else,” says Cummings, who nonetheless saw how inappropriate the playground was for his disabilities. When Jake passed away in 2007, Cummings’ friend gave her a check. “Think of something to do with it,” she told her, and Cummings decided to found Build Jake’s Place, a non-profit dedicated to making a “Boundless Playground” in southern New Jersey. Cummings, a nurse at DaVita (No. 231), a company specializing in dialysis services, gathered a group of physical and occupational therapists and playground designers to brainstorm ways to make a playground accessible to all children. Boundless Playgrounds aren’t designed exclusively for disabled children, but they are governed by one principle: that every child, no matter his or her ability, should be able to reach the highest point of the playground.
It took three and a half years—and an assortment of fundraising efforts that spanned from coin drives to corporate grants—for Kate to raise the $500,000 needed to build the “boundless” site (or five times the amount necessary to build a traditional playground), but in 2011 she opened Jake’s Place for the first time. At the new site, there are still monkey bars and a climbing wall, but there also spinners off to the side where, for example, autistic children have a place to withdraw—as well as ramps and a bouncy concrete base (rather than wood chips) to allow wheelchairs to glide across the ground. The playground is also designed with plenty of shade because kids with disabilities typically need to rest more often. Now, Cummings says, the playground is always full of kids. “It was overwhelming how many people needed it.”