Disabled kids take to new swings and slides

Ronald McDonald House opens a playground accessible to its patients

July 01, 2004|By Ilene Hollin | Ilene Hollin,SUN STAFF

Twin sisters, one with a brace on her leg, were able to swing beside each other yesterday for the first time this summer.

Children and families of the Ronald McDonald House on West Lexington Street celebrated last night at the opening of a long-awaited playground accessible to disabled children.

The 6,500-square-foot area features a swing set with two traditional swings and two swings for disabled children; a red-and-blue combination of slides, mirrors and monkey bars; a child-size rock-climbing wall; a half-court basketball court; and picnic tables and benches.

The old playground, built in 1982 when the Ronald McDonald House opened in West Baltimore, was one-fourth the size with just one swing and one slide, neither accessible to the disabled children who often stay there with their families.

"It's so cool that they could bring all these people together to make such a great place for us kids," said Heather Billet, 14, who has been living at the Ronald McDonald House for three months as she undergoes limb lengthening.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Baltimore serves families from across the globe by providing temporary housing near the hospitals where their children receive medical care. Every night, 37 families of children with catastrophic illnesses sleep there, and lengths of stay range from several weeks to a year.

"This is the first time when [families] will have a space to breathe fresh air and allow their children to run and play," said Marianne Rowan-Braun, executive director of the house.

Plans for the playground began in March, when the board of directors approved the $200,000 project without any committed donations -- with the goal of completion by today.

The Aaron Straus and Lillie Straus Foundation donated $50,000, and contributions so far have covered about two-thirds of the cost, Rowan-Braun said.

"I think this house for the last 22 years has relied very much on taking care of the families. The house was just getting by on a shoestring. There was no additional funding available to build a playground for the children," she said.

Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colts player, helped found the Baltimore house after his brother, Billy Ehrmann, died of leukemia.

Ehrmann said his experiences in the waiting room of the oncology unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital showed him the need for a Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore, as he watched families from far away struggle to find a place to stay.

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