NORTH BEND — A park for disabled children is in the works.
Soon, North Bend will be the only place in Coos County and surrounding areas with this type of an all-inclusive park. This means children in wheelchairs can still use park equipment, rather than visit only to watch other kids have fun.
Grass grows from the sand Friday at Airport Heights Park in North Bend, a park some residents are rallying to make Coos County's first ADA acc…
To help raise money for what will be known as “Dillian’s Place,” as well as participate in honoring local law enforcement, Christina and Justin Gray are hosting National Night Out at the park’s future location on Tuesday, August 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Airport Heights Park.
“North Bend and Coos Bay have turned National Night Out to the citizens to hold block parties in our individual areas,” Christina Gray said. “This is a great opportunity to do one at Airport Heights Park and spread awareness with what we’re doing with Dillian’s Place and the playground we want to put in there.”
That night there will be a live music concert by “All Fall Short,” as well as a bounce house, face painting, and games for the kids. Free ice cream is to be served too.
“The event is being supported by Big Foot Pepsi, North Bend Safeway and Walmart,” Gray said.
Airport Heights Park in North Bend, a park some residents are rallying to make Coos County's first ADA accessible park.
The Gray family hopes that community members and law enforcement have fun, but also to spread the word that they are actively looking for donations and sponsors for Dillian’s Place.
“We want people to know we are still working on this and it will eventually come to fruition,” she said. “It may not be done fast, because we want to do it right, but it is coming.”
Dillian Gray’s story
Dillian Gray’s life began with tragedy. As The World previously reported, on March 20, 2015, 4-month-old Dillian was brought to Bay Area Hospital with a brain injury that would later take his life.
That injury was the result of being allegedly abused by his biological father, who has since been indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree and criminal mistreatment in the first degree.
Within a matter of weeks after being brought to Bay Area Hospital for treatment, Dillian was placed into the local foster system. In April of 2015, he found himself at home with the Gray family.
When he first arrived, both Christina and Justin were already taking care of five children with significant medical needs, as The World reported last year.
“When we got him, we had no idea what his long term prognosis would be,” Christina Gray said in a previous interview. “Sometimes kids like him bounce back, some don't.”
It wasn’t long after he was brought to them that he began having seizures. Doctors discovered he was cortically blind and deaf, where the signals would stop at his brain stem.
“It was like having a television that can't plug in,” Gray described in an interview last year. “The eyes and brain and ears worked, but weren't connecting. He was near vegetative. He didn't roll over, had no cognitive movement or progression. His quality of life was limited. He didn't smile, didn't laugh.
In April 2017, Dillian was placed into hospice care. The Gray's adopted him that May.
Dillian died a little over a month later in July.
To honor him, the Gray family threw themselves into creating Dillian’s Place. It is a large project with a price tag of $350,000.
Right now, they have raised about $80,000.
Dillian Bowman Gray died from abusive head trauma last year. His biological parents now face charges.
“That money raised so far is from our community, from $5 to $100 donations here and there,” Christina Gray said. “We’ve had a couple grants and are now in the sponsorship phase, looking for sponsors who want to be significant donors. Once we reach between $150,000 and $200,000, we will go for bigger matching grants from places like the Ford Family Foundation.”
To donate or become a sponsor, visit www.dilliansplace.com.
“We update that site to show appreciation to who donates,” Gray said. “It’s a big project that means a lot to our community, so when donations are made we want to make sure people know.”
Coos County’s first special needs park
The park is more expensive because it is going to be 100 percent ADA approved and all-inclusive. As Gray explained it, the standards and stipulations that go along with those credentials is where the high cost originates.
“We want to put in flooring that is fall-safe, good for people in wheelchairs or if they have difficulty walking and need walking devices like walkers,” Gray said. “It is also for parents who experience disability and want to go onto the playground. In order to make that completely accessible, we need a special surface for them to walk on and access the play equipment and that is expensive.”
Dillian’s Place has been designed by an agency in Portland that specializes in all-inclusive parks. Its design has also had input from special education teachers, the local Autism Society, and parents with disabled children.
Thanks to all these voices, everything has been brought into consideration. This includes accommodating kids with sensory disorders and the colors of structures, which can affect children with autism.
“We have come up with different pieces of equipment, like a play dome that provides a quiet space for kids who get over stimulated,” Gray said. “Parents can see in, so we know they’re safe, but it gives kids a place to hide so they are less likely to run from the park.”
They are also hoping to work with a local fencing company and the Autism Society to put a fence around the playground to keep children safe and inside the park.
“We have musical instruments for kids with sensory disabilities and are at a level where kids in wheelchairs can access them,” she said.
There are also going to be “talking panels,” which is one of Gray’s favorite aspects to the park. These panels will help parents have a jumping off point for games and interaction with their children.
“Some will say for them to go find three yellow pieces in the park, so they can run all over the park and find something yellow,” she said. “Our hope with that, especially being next to (Department of Human Services), is for when parents and kids are going through transitions or difficult times this will encourage play between them.”
Not only that, but equipment such as swings will be made for kids to be strapped in if they can’t hold themselves up or are in wheelchairs.
“We will have parallel toys for both disabled kids and kids who don’t have disabilities so they can share that peer experience, which is crucial in mind development and a sense of belonging and equality,” she said. “This means these kids will grow in an environment where kids without disabilities will accept them as just like them, because they will be right there in their play space.”
Gray thanked the community for its support.
“I know this is a lot of money, but this is something that will change lives for 35 or 40 years,” she said.