AIKEN - Sydney Parker, 6, usually stops when she sees the swings at the park. The reminder that she can't play like other children overwhelms the joy of the park and stops her in her tracks, said her mom, Monica.
"She just stands by and watches," she said.
Sydney's therapy with Hitchcock Healthcare and Heather Raynack, Hitchcock's rehabilitation services director, led to an effort by this year's Leadership Aiken class to upgrade a city playground so children with special needs, including Sydney, could play.
Raynack is also a member of Leadership Aiken, a program sponsored through the Aiken Chamber of Commerce. The group settled on the program because the 26 members realized anyone could be affected, Raynack said.
"It could benefit so many in Aiken County," she said.
About 12 percent of Aiken County's public school population has disabilities, according to the state Education Department Web site.
Sydney, who suffered brain damage in a car accident when she was 2, loves going to the park, her mother said, but the city's facilities do not accommodate her skill level. She can't support herself on a regular swing and trips over wood chips that cover the ground.
Parker said Sydney and others like her would benefit from equipment that has flat surfaces, handrails, paths large enough for wheelchairs and swings with high backs.
"Children learn through play, and right now she's halted developmentally," Parker said.
Leadership Aiken has its eyes on the park next to the Aiken Public Library, which is also scheduled for a city upgrade.
The group is working to raise $50,000 before it graduates in June.
Raynack said it has received about 10 percent of that since going public earlier this month. A playground with all the bells and whistles would cost about $175,000, she said.
Glenn Parker, the city's Parks, Recreation and Tourism director, said no funds are set aside for the library park but it is next in line for upgrades. He said the county applied for a grant with Boundless, an organization that promotes multifunctional playgrounds, to supplement possible upgrades.
The closest special-needs-accessible playground is Virginia's Playground at 605 Reynolds St. in Augusta.