Our Town York: Inclusive Playground

Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 10:52 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2022 at 11:29 AM CST
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YORK, Neb. (KOLN) - Kids of all abilities will soon have a place where they can play together, and forge friendships, in the community of York.

What’s believed to be the largest all-inclusive playground in the state is being completed in York, and the idea started with a local parent named Paul Jaekel.

“In 2016, my youngest child Gracin was born. He was born with Down Syndrome,” Jaekel said. “My family and I went to visit my brother in Minnesota, and he has a young child born with Down Syndrome as well. He took me to an all-inclusive playground there. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Paul asked on a Facebook post why something like this couldn’t happen in York.

“Kids that are able-bodied, and others with different abilities, could get along and play with each other,” Jaekel said.

It wasn’t long before the ball was rolling.

“A friend of mine, a daycare provider for my children, said the only way it’s going to happen is if we do it,” Jaekel said. “That’s how it all started.”

A committee was formed. It included Paul, as well as people like Julie Hoffman and April McDaniel. The name of the inclusive playground became the Peyton Parker Lane Playground.

“Part of the name, is after my son Lane,” McDaniel said. She says her son would have loved a playground like this. “Lane’s been passed for eight years,” McDaniel said. “He was born healthy, but came down sick about a month old, and that caused a brain injury. Lane was very happy and energetic. He was confined to a wheelchair.”

The name of the playground also bears the names of Julie Hoffman’s two sons.

“I’m the mom of Peyton and Parker,” Hoffman said. “They were amazing, they were born disabled, and both used wheelchairs. They were incredible, they were smart, non verbal, and went to school. They were fully incorporated into their classrooms.”

Both Peyton and Parker have passed away, but Julie says they, too, would have loved the playground. “We made this playground to include everyone,” Hoffman said. “Everyone from 0 to 99 can use the playground.”

Committee members who’ve worked on this project from the beginning say it was never hard to raise money for it. In fact, they say the community raised more than $1 million in private donations for the project in just 20 months.

“It’s incredible. Every time we turned around, there was another group wanting to do a fundraiser,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t really have to try very hard to get the community involved,” McDaniel said. “The community embraced this project from the beginning. I think it’s a God thing. I really feel like God drove this project.”

Committee members say the city was 100% behind the project. “With the city administrator, the mayor, we had a lot of meetings with them, they let us build on their property,” Jaekel said. “They provided an all-inclusive bathroom for us, which is important. There will be some parking as well.”

The Peyton Parker Lane Playground is set to open to the public in the spring of 2023.

“I’m grateful for the York community, the private citizens, the businesses that stepped up, donated and made this a reality,” Hoffman said. “This playground belongs to everyone.”