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Determination & playgrounds

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The children of Mark and Amy Martin are pictured where a special needs playground will eventually be erected at Oneida City Park.

Meet Amy Martin, who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

In a town with the highest unemployment rate in the state, and one of the highest in the nation, a town where factories, decades-old retailers and even the local hospital have closed their doors, Martin decided to do something most would have considered too daunting to tackle: Raise nearly $200,000 to build her son and others like him a place to play.

The mother of four often took her three oldest children to the city park in Oneida, Tenn., to do the things all kids like to do — swing, slide, climb, run. But when her youngest son, Joseph, was born with special needs, Martin discovered that traditional playgrounds present obstacles difficult for special needs children to overcome.

“When Joseph began to walk, all the uneven surfaces, hills and barriers of traditional playground equipment made it almost impossible for me to take all my children to the park,” Martin said.

So she decided to do something about it.

In 2010, Martin enlisted the help of a few friends and spearheaded an effort to build an all-inclusive playground at the park. She almost immediately received permission from the town to replace an aged and seldom-used volleyball court with the playground. But fundraising presented a major obstacle.

The initial price tag for the project was estimated at $173,000. With their own budget woes brought on by the stagnant economy, local governments were unable to help with funding. The best they could do was provide space for the playground at the park and wish Martin good luck.

Hard workers tend to make their own luck, though.

Martin’s first attempt at raising funds was a roadblock on the main route through Oneida. With unemployment hovering near 20 percent, she would have been happy with a few hundred dollars.

Instead, she raised $6,000.

“That showed me that the people of Scott County wholeheartedly support this project,” Martin said.

While $6,000 is a lot of money, it was only a drop in the bucket considering the hefty price tag attached to the project, which has been termed “Play With No Boundaries.”

Martin was undeterred. A website was set up (www.playwithnoboundaries.org). T-shirts were printed. A spinoff of the hit ABC reality show Dancing With The Stars was created and has turned into an annual event at the town’s high school, where well-known members of the community dance with their partners and are judged by a panel of their peers. Donations have been solicited — and received — from philanthropists, businesses and individuals who just want to help.

Nearly three years later, Martin has accomplished what few would have thought possible: she has raised $87,000.

Still, that’s only halfway to the final goal, which currently stands at $166,000 after the town’s vocational school was able to obtain a government grant to provide a swing set for the project.

Once it is completed — and it will be completed, Martin says — the playground will consist of 5,175 sq. ft. of poured rubber surface for safety, with double-wide ramps to accommodate children in wheel chairs. The entire system will be designed for children of all abilities to play together as one without having playground barriers to separate them.

“This playground will not only provide state-of-the-art equipment for special needs children, but will give children the opportunity to develop self-respect and respect for others through the universal language of play,” Martin says.

As fundraising efforts continue, Martin is not sure where the additional money will come from. She just knows that, one way or another, it will come. And if $87,000 has taught those in Oneida who are familiar with the playground effort anything, it’s this: never underestimate a determined mother.

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