Gwendolyn Strong may have been medically fragile, but she still knew how to have fun. She laughed, she loved, and she brought unbounded joy to her family and friends. Despite all the ADA-compliant playgrounds around Santa Barbara, however, none of them allowed her to play alongside her peers.
Gwendolyn’s short but remarkable life will help give that chance to other Central Coast children with physical disabilities. A foundation started by her parents, which has raised more than $3 million to fund research of spinal muscular atrophy, is also collecting funds to build Santa Barbara County’s first inclusive playground. It would be the only one of its kind between Calabasas and Santa Cruz.
A fundraiser luncheon last month was expected to bring in around $20,000. Instead, an avalanche of giving from more than 200 attendees brought the day’s total to $150,000. The playground campaign has now generated around $750,000 of its $4 million goal in order to break ground by 2022.
“We are so thrilled by the enthusiastic response of the community to bring much-needed inclusive play to our incredible city,” said Victoria Strong, Gwendolyn’s mom and executive director of the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. “We have an opportunity to not only provide play for the one in four of us living with a disability who are currently left on the sidelines, but also to reimagine and elevate public play spaces to be more for everyone, simultaneously fostering empathy and understanding in the next generation.”