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Noah's Playground for Everyone

Noah Cutter, a resident of Evanston, was born to Julie and David Cutter on May 13, 2003. Noah brought joy to everyone he came in contact with, sharing his youthful enthusiasm and shining personality. Noah, despite being born with several neurological disabilities, had a bright spirit.

playground

Julie and David cherished the time they spent with their son, learning many lessons from him. “When people picture a non-verbal, special needs child, they picture a child who has no emotional attachment.” That was not true for Noah. “He definitely had his ways of communicating — with smiles, he patted cheeks, gave kisses. You could understand him very well. He was a loving little boy. For all his inabilities he was clear about what he liked and what he disliked,” said Julie.

On December 24, 2005, Noah passed away in his sleep. While the exact cause of his death is not known, it is believed his disabilities overwhelmed his body and he could no longer survive.

During his life, Noah and his parents dealt with obstacles that made it difficult for Noah to take part in everyday childhood activities, like spending a day on the playground. Unfortunately, this simple outing would cause a struggle for Noah and his parents. Julie reflected that there was, “little at the park that he could enjoy.” She and David “experienced frustrations.” Since most parks are only partially accessible, the Cutters were at the mercy of insufficient facilities. Julie and David needed to hold Noah up in the sandbox and while children without special needs can swing easily on traditional park swings, it was very difficult for Noah to utilize them. The swings offered little support and it was a chore for his parents to get him in and out of the apparatus.

Following Noah’s death, Julie’s sister-in-law had an inspired idea. She made a call to the City of Evanston to ask them if they would be interested in sponsoring a project to construct a fully accessible playground. The city jumped on the idea. Stefanie Levine, Landscape Architect and Project Manager for the City of Evanston, enthusiastically said, “OK great; let’s do it.”

Construction on Noah’s Playground for Everyone started early last August and is projected to open to visitors this spring, according to Julie. The estimated cost of the project at its onset was $840,000. Through fundraising and donations, a committee made up of family, friends and other community members needed to raise $400,000 and the City of Evanston provided the remainder of the funding, which was already budgeted for park improvements at Lawson Park.

Therapists and experts, some who had worked with Noah during his life, were brought in to share their knowledge, giving input about what special features in the playground would benefit children with special needs. Members of the community, including parents of both special needs and non-special needs children, were also invited to give their opinions about what they would like to see at the park.

Noah’s Playground will feature an elevated sandbox, situated at a level to make it possible for those in wheelchairs to be able to remain secure in their seats while playing in the sand. The swings offer much-needed support with full seats, armrests and straps. Other amenities will include specially designed rubberized surfacing to help cushion falls, and contrasting colors helping those with compromised vision to navigate the equipment with ease. Noah’s Playground for Everyone will provide a place to learn and play for both special needs and non-special needs children and their families. Julie stated, “Play is a fundamental piece of childhood development for any child. This playground targets a group who so often can’t have that experience.”

There are plans to construct a grove with trees and different plants with a deck where visitors to the park can bask in scenic natural surroundings. Levine noted, “I think everybody needs an opportunity to experience the natural environment. Kids particularly need that with this dense urban environment — getting that escape to something that’s more natural. It’s a freeing experience. It gives them the opportunity to explore. Play is an important part of child development. I hope it is a place that everyone can go and enjoy, not just the disabled community. The intention is to create a playground for everyone,” said Levine.

Noah Cutter’s love of life will live on in the playground and in the hearts of the people who loved him. “He taught us that...everything is normal, you have to learn to accept what you have. He taught us so much about tolerance and differences,” noted Julie. The playground is a “great tribute to his memory.”

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