IRMO, SC (WIS) - Saluda Shoals Park is in the middle of a fundraising effort to build a universally-inclusive playground.
One Midlands family has been the driving force behind the effort and has raised thousands to support it.
Since their son Leo was born, Meredith and Adam Bugenske have loved taking him to the park.
"We love watching kids play, we love watching kids move and have fun and enjoy being outside," Adam said.
But the physical movement for 4-year-old Leo on his own is nearly impossible. That's because at two weeks old, he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, a genetic neuromuscular condition that causes the muscles to waste away.
"There was always a part of us that wanted Leo to be in the middle of all of that, establishing those friendships like we did when we were younger," Adam added.
Constantly inspired by her son, Meredith says she wrote an email to the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission envisioning a playground for all. The commission could not have agreed more.
"That idea of inclusion is really exciting particularly to raise up a generation that lives that way and that are experiencing those things naturally," said Mark Smyers, the executive director of the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission. "It's not something they're being taught, but it's just the way it is."
Now, the hope is a vast open space at Saluda Shoals Athletic Park off St. Andrews Road will be transformed into a 9,000 square foot inclusive playground sooner than later.
"Nine thousand square feet, to give you an idea, would be about halfway between me and the woods," said Jay Downs, the superintendent of operations and facilities for the commission. "You'll have climbing areas, swing areas, slides. You're going to have some sensory areas that you can play on."
Because the playground is in the design phase, there are no official blueprints just yet. Because the park is a nonprofit, they say they will have to rely on donations to make the estimated $1.5 million project happen.
The Bugenske's donated $75,000 after holding their Go Leo Go run this past October for their foundation created in their son's honor called Leo's Pride. Now its fourth year, the funds annually help families with children like Leo.
"We've been able to give money for families to buy vans, to buy medical equipment to help bridge the gap, to invest in research," said Adam as he referenced how the money raised from previous runs was used. "This check that we've given to the park for this playground is one that we're incredibly excited about because we're investing back into the community that's invested into our life with Leo."
While the Bugenskes thought they were at the park to tell us about the playground, we had Matt Mungo of Mungo Homes surprise them with the news that because of all of their efforts they were selected as our latest Community Builder.
"I am here because of y'all's work with spinal muscular atrophy and Leo's pride, and I just wanted to let you know that you have been chosen as the WIS and Mungo Homes Community Builder and you'll get $1,000 check to the charity of your choice," Mungo said.
Taken aback, the Bugenske's showed Leo the hard hat they received from Mungo. It's an honor they'll maintain they haven't achieved on their own.
"It's been our community that's created it, it wasn't us. We were just kind of following God's plan and this is what it happened to be," Meredith said.
Now it's what will be at Saluda Shoals that's providing an opportunity for Leo and every other child in the Midlands.
"It's not a wheelchair accessible playground, it's not a playground for special needs, it is a playground that is for every single child out there, and I really believe that when this gets built that kids will come here and they'll feel like this was built just for me," Meredith added.
The Bugenskes say a new medication has been approved that Leo has started taking that they are hoping will stop the progression of his Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Park officials tell us thanks to the Bugenskes and a grant they have received, they are close to half a million dollars raised. However, they still need another $1 million to make the playground a reality.
If you'd like to donate or want more information visit: http://www.icrc.net/saluda-shoals-foundation.