More Than We Could Imagine
All-Abilities Playground Cultivates Community
Bonsack members James and Jennifer Garner didn’t set out to bring an all-abilities playground to Botetourt County, but a family trip to the beach almost 4 years ago changed all that. Having founded the Addy Grace Foundation after their daughter, Addy Grace, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy in 2009, the Garners were already advocating for families impacted by the diagnosis. But when the family went on vacation in 2015, they found a refined vision for the Addy Grace Foundation. James explains, “We took Addy to Virginia Beach because Jennifer wanted [Addy] to get her feet in the sand. We noticed once we got her down to the beach that she kept looking back. We didn’t realize what she was looking back at- it was an all-abilities playground. She wanted to go play on that more than be at the beach.”
After spending more time on the playground, with a wheelchair-accessible play surface and wide pathways for navigating, the Garners knew they wanted to bring that experience home. As the Garners talked, researched, and prayed, they learned that funding the project would cost approximately $750,000. The project was larger than anything their foundation had previously organized, but ultimately they knew they had to press ahead. Jennifer says, “I told James from the very beginning, ‘We have nothing to worry about, God’s got this.’ I never worried that the financial piece wouldn’t come together, because I knew that when people heard and understood the story, they would believe [in this project] and see why it was important.”
Promoting the playground’s inclusivity was important to the Garners. “It’s an all-abilities playground, because we wanted people to realize this is for typically-developing children just as much as it is for special needs children or adults. We wanted a place where both could come and play together. Not just the brothers playing with Addy sitting there watching,” Jennifer explains.
After being gifted land for the playground’s location from the Botetourt YMCA, the Garners began fundraising. Meanwhile, the women’s ministry at Bonsack was praying for opportunities to sponsor family events and impact the community. Kim King, one of Bonsack Women’s Ministry coordinators, describes how the connection was made: “Debbie McAllister was part of the team and she told us that her family had been doing a Barn Dance at Camp Bethel for years. She suggested we move the dance to the new Community Life Center (CLC), and use it as a fundraiser to help in our community. It was then that we decided we would like to do a fundraiser for the Addy Grace Foundation All-Abilities Playground.”
Bonsack Women’s Ministry hosted the Barn Dance in the CLC, raising $4,400 in its first year. Kim remarks, “We never dreamed we’d raise $4,000. The second year, we really turned the dance over to God and that changed everything. We began praying daily for the dance 40 days out with a devotional each day by Mark Batterson. Our prayer was based on Eph 3:20, ‘God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams. (MSG)’ God not only showed up each year after that but He showed off!” The 2018 and 2019 Barn Dances raised $24,000 and $24,605, respectively.
Thanks to fundraisers like the Barn Dance, a network of supporters through social media and local television, and generous donors that matched gifts to increase momentum, the Addy Grace All-Abilities Playground reached full funding. The Garners estimate that around 80% of the funding came from small donations, one-time gifts, and events that hundreds of people attended. When the Addy Grace Foundation cut the ribbon opening the playground on May 4, 2019, children flooded into a playground that a community had made possible. A bright butterfly plaque explains the Foundation’s vision, concluding with a dedication: “Addy Grace, thank you for the contagious smile and miles upon miles of courage that you have brought to our world.” The Garners are quick to give credit to the village that supported them, but the vision was realized because they acted on their courage and stepped out in faith. Reflecting on what this journey meant for Bonsack Women’s Ministry, Kim says, “Never try to put God in a box. He wants to give us so much more than we could ever ask or imagine, if we only let Him lead the way.”