Originally created 12/24/01

A play place for all



Virginia Trainor would have been one of the first children to play on a playground her mother planned that was accessible to everyone - even physically impaired children.

The 5-year-old Blue Ridge Elementary School kindergartner didn't get the chance - she died in October. But she has become the focus of a fund-raising effort to build the playground.

Blue Ridge has been leading the charge in a fund-raising drive called Pennies for Virginia's Playground. In the first week of the drive, pupils raised $250 and have contributed $918.90.

"I think this is a great opportunity to channel our grief and sense of loss over losing Virginia Trainor into a project that will benefit 'other children who may not have access to a wheelchairaccessible playground," said Jeff Coleman, the assistant principal of Blue Ridge.

Other local schools and civic organizations have joined in the effort.

The goal is to raise $150,000 to $200,000 to complete the 3,200-square-foot park.

Virginia's mother, Mary Ann Trainor, began working on the playground in June.

"It was my dream that she would be able to play on it," Mrs. Trainor said.

Virginia suffered from numerous health problems and was wheelchair-bound. She died unexpectedly from surgery complications.

In July, Mrs. Trainor established the Rachael Longstreet Foundation Inc. Named after the daughter of Augusta incorporator William Longstreet, the foundation aims to serve children, particularly those who are disabled or financially disadvantaged. Building the playground is the foundation's first project.

"Our goal is to have 70 percent of the activities accessible to children in wheelchairs or those who use walkers," Mrs. Trainor said.

The surface of the playground will be rubbery to allow wheelchairs to roll easily between pieces of equipment, and ramps and bridges will lead to other

playground features. Rather than having sand boxes, the park will have sand and water tables so children in wheelchairs can roll up to play. The land for the playground will be leased from St. Pauls Episcopal Church on Reynolds Street.

The foundation also has other goals of starting a Head Start Program and a school of the arts with children from Tubman Middle School. But much of what is accomplished will depend on funding.

Mrs. Trainor said she believes the Sept. 11 tragedy has hurt her cause.

"Our goal was to raise $80,000 by Dec. 15, and we've just about hit the $40,000 mark," Mrs. Trainor said. "Just to surface and fence the playground will cost $40,000."

Mrs. Trainor said the park likely will be built in two stages and will be assembled by volunteers. The first phase will include surfacing, fencing and lower-level play elements, while the second phase will include a large play structure.

Mrs. Trainor said she hopes the park will attract not just the disabled, but also their able-bodied friends.

"This generation is the first generation to be integrated with children with disabilities," Mrs. Trainor said. "This is the reason I'm getting so much money from the kids. They've had to watch their friends sit on the sidewalk because they can't get across the wood chips to the playground. We have adults who've never been able to play with their kids because they can't get out there. It will touch the whole community when they see what this structure is."

Donation jars can be found at many Columbia County schools, at the Boys and Girls clubs and at Saturn of Augusta. Donations can be sent to the Rachel Longstreet Foundation Inc., 605 Reynolds St., Augusta, GA 30901.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113 or melhall@augustachronicle.com.