Gwen Ciccozzi, 7 years old, has started a lemonade stand to raise funds for a playground that will be inclusive for all.
Her mother, Rebecca Ciccozzi, explained to ABC affiliate WEWS and the Medina Gazette that Gwen had a perinatal stroke in the womb, resulting in cerebral palsy and limited function on the right side of her body.
“We didn’t know if she would walk or talk or even be able to understand what other people were saying,” Ciccozzi told WEWS.
Due to her disabilities, Gwen has difficulty having fun at the playground in her city of Brunswick, Ohio. The family often have to drive to an inclusive playground 20 minutes away from their neighborhood.
“It’s so hard because we want to be able to run and take Gwen to a playground,” Ciccozzi told the Medina Gazette. “She’s at that stage where she can go to a typical playground, but she can’t enjoy it as much because there’s not as much that she can do with one functional hand.”
Special educator for Brunswick City Schools, Leann Alerio, proposed the city’s first inclusive park last year. Gwen was eager to help raise the much needed funds to make the inclusive playground a reality.
The lemonade stand, named dubbed Gwennie Penny’s Lemonade, was a huge success.
“I was so overwhelmed with the generosity of our community,” the Gwen’s proud mom gushed. “She raised so much money. We were in the house and counting it and I said, ‘Gwen, this is a lot of money. Do you think you want to keep this all or should we donate some?’ And she immediately said, ‘The playground.'”
In March, the Brunswick School System released a statement, announcing it would launch a joint fundraising initiative to help pay for the new playground, which will upgrade an existing one at Neura Park to “include accommodation for special needs.”
HAGS, a Swedish recreational equipment company, describes inclusive playgrounds as having multi-sensory components, accessible surface materials, pathways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and secluded areas for children with sensory issues to have a quiet place to unwind.
The cost of the inclusive playground is estimated at $320,000 and will reportedly be completed by March 2022.
“I have met some kids who have really impacted me and changed my life and when you get to work that closely with them you want to do anything you can to level that playing field,” Alerio said. “They may walk differently, they may communicate differently, they may behave differently, but on the inside they’re kids, they want to make friends and they want to play.”
Gwen’s lemonade stand raised more than $1,000, according to a Facebook page.
“The inclusive playground is so near and dear [to her]. She understands the need for that inclusiveness,” said Ciccozzi. “When she goes to a typical playground, oftentimes there are things that she struggles to participate in… To have [an inclusive playground] in our neighborhood and our community is our dream.”