Shelby Township officials, the Shelby Township Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club of Utica-Shelby Township gather to celebrate the groundbreaking of a barrier-free playground at River Bends Park in Shelby Township Oct. 14.

Shelby Township officials, the Shelby Township Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club of Utica-Shelby Township gather to celebrate the groundbreaking of a barrier-free playground at River Bends Park in Shelby Township Oct. 14.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Barrier-free playground breaks ground in park

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 21, 2019


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Shelby Township celebrated the groundbreaking of a barrier-free playground in one of its parks Oct. 14.

Shelby Township officials, the Shelby Township Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club of Utica-Shelby Township gathered at River Bends Park, 5700 22 Mile Road, to celebrate the new playground, which was already starting to be built.

According to a press release, there is no all-inclusive playground within a 20-mile radius of Shelby Township.

The playground is being constructed at the 22 Mile Road portion of the park and will feature 16 pieces of play equipment.

The groundbreaking recognized many months of organization and fundraising under the project name “Kids at Play.”

Project manager Linda-Ann Heldt, who was named a 2018 Macomb County Volunteer of the Year by the county’s Board of Commissioners, spearheaded the efforts.

“This is great. I didn’t expect it to be up so fast, because this morning there was nothing here. The ground was cleared, but there was no equipment in the ground yet. The guys are working on it right now. They are actually putting together the swingset. Some of the pieces were donated by specific companies,” Heldt said.

The playground project consists of two phases. Phase one features structures and surfaces to provide several different opportunities for children to explore, to integrate all of their senses and to encourage social play. Six structures are included in phase one: the Global Motion, the Sway Glider, the OmniSpin Spinner, the Roller Table, the Friendship Swing and the ZipKrooz.

The project received a total of $205,000 in donations toward phase one.

The total cost of the project is $210,000, and a grand opening for phase one is slated for the spring.

Phase two will include an expanded safety surface that will support an 8-foot fall, and 12 more interactive play features. Phase two will cost approximately $261,583.

Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis shared his thoughts on the new playground at the groundbreaking.

“Well, sometimes government leadership means just kind of staying out of the way and letting these good people do their good work, and it was all private money that was donated. It was their idea, and we are so proud that they picked Shelby Township and … that we now have a place for special-needs children. And if this is not the only one in Macomb (County), it’s one of the few, and the very best one, because this is only phase one. Wait until you see phase two. So we’re pretty proud of the fact that there are a lot of charitable hearts in the township, and this is wonderful,” said Stathakis.

The Kids at Play project received its first donation in July 2018 from local Kiwanis clubs and Kids at Play board members. In January 2019, the project received a $20,000 matching grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, and Nitsches Meat & Deli Shoppe in Shelby Township donated $20,000.

Kids at Play presented the all-inclusive park at the April 2019 Shelby Township Lions Club meeting. Kids at Play board member Stacey DeFillippo and her 6-year-old son, Ryen, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, spoke to the Lions Club about the importance of all children playing together. The Lions Club approved a donation of $20,000 toward the project.

Lions Club International also approved a $100,000 matching grant donation toward the project.

With phase one under construction, organizers are working on fundraising for phase two, which will require an additional $180,000 to complete the playground.

Shelby Township Trustee Lynn Wilhelm said she was glad that everything was able to come together after all the hard work.

“I was really proud to be the (township board) liaison for parks and recreation, and we were able to help and put all this together. We worked really hard to get to this position and this place, and it’s just so exciting to see it all coming together,” said Wilhelm.

Kids at Play is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded and led by Heldt. It started as a dream, and in July 2017 a group of concerned citizens and families of children who have special needs banded together to discuss an all-inclusive playground in Shelby Township. Parents of children with special needs indicated that there were few parks where they could take their children to play outdoors together with able-bodied friends and siblings.

According to the Macomb Intermediate School District, more than 19,000 children in Macomb County have been identified as having special needs, with either physical or mental disabilities.

Township Clerk Stan Grot said he was happy to see the project happening.

“This is an amazing project. This is a standout project in Shelby Township. First of its kind,” said Grot.

Shelby Township Lion Jim Beals was involved in a large part of the project and said they had to act fast before the cold weather arrived and the funding expired.

“The key was getting the funding and ordering the equipment, because you see now in October, as you can see, it’s getting a little cooler, so for us we had to hit the ground and get the equipment on order. It’s got to be above 50 degrees to pour the concrete,” Beals said.

The concrete was planned to be poured Oct. 16, and rubber matting was planned to be installed the week of Oct. 21.

“The real key is to get the word out that there is a park now specifically made for all-inclusive (play). It’s not just for Shelby Township; it’s for all of Macomb County,” Beals said.

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Further donations can be made by check to SCF-Kids at Play Fund and mailed to P.O. Box 354, Washington Township, MI 48094. Donations also can be made online by credit card or via PayPal at for the Kids at Play Fund.