By Sarrah Peters
On Tuesday, August 28, local politicians gathered in Hokes Bluff Park to celebrate the addition of a swing. But this wasn’t just any swing – this swing is specially designed to be wheelchair accessible, allowing local special needs children to play alongside other children.
Evan Shields, a nine-year-old student at John Jones Elementary, was the first to officially use the swing. Evan, who has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound. Before the addition of the swing, Evan had few options for play at the park, which his family frequents with his siblings.
“I don’t think that anybody realizes how big a deal this is,” said Rodney Shields, Evan’s father. “There’s no where to go for him.”
Rodney said that there are not many places where all four of his kids can play. The new swing was added to the existing playground so that the special needs children were not isolated from other children.
“You bring them out here with this and they can go play out here, while he [Evan] can go play over there [on the swing],” said Rodney. “It’s perfect.”
State Representative Craig Ford said that the swing was added for children like Shields.
“Evan, this isn’t about us; this is about you, buddy,” said Ford. “I was just talking to Evan and his dad [Rodney] and he said there’s a lot of other children in this area that go to John Jones that will benefit from this. This is one of those days you’re glad to be an elected official and that you’re able to make a difference in people’s lives.”
State Representative Becky Nordgren also shared her excitement over the new swing.
“This is a great day,” said Nordgren. “We’ve been talking about the improvements for the park for disabled children, and I’m very, very excited.”
Nordgren said that the project was a group effort that “everybody worked together on” without conflict.
Hokes Bluff Mayor Scott Reeves thanked Ford and Nordgren for their support before detailing the steps it took to add the swing.
“For years and years, Hokes Bluff has provided the means for sporting activities for all of our kids,” said Reeves. “I met a lady at the hardware store about a year ago and she said it’d be neat if Hokes Bluff had a facility for special needs kids.”
This inspired Reeves to approach the Hokes Bluff City Council, who were supportive of the idea of adding the swing.
To supply the $27,000 needed for the swing, rubber safety matting and fencing, Ford and Nordgren both secured $10,000 grants from Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council to go to the project. Etowah County Commissioners Johnny Grant and Joey Statum contributed $2,500 each from their discretionary funds for the swing.
“Anytime we have the opportunity where we can invest back in our communities, we just love that opportunity,” said Statum. “It’s the taxpayers’ money going back, helping others. That’s what I feel like our job is. It’s to help people and to help get the taxpayers, money back in the taxpayers’ hands. I think this is a great asset, not just to everyone in Hokes Bluff, but in the county. It’s open to anyone who wants to come. This is a facility for everyone, for all the special needs kids herein Etowah County.”
After the presentation of a check from the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council, Evan was helped into the swing, and Mayor Reeves, Ford and several others took turns pushing him.