Introducing: Leo’s Haven Ambassador Sophie O’Rourke

We celebrate Sophie O’Rourke for her essay on being an “upstander.” She chose to share her experience working to make LEO’s Haven a reality.  Thank you Sophie!

The park where all kids can play

by Sophie O’Rourke, 5th grade, Mountain School. Writing for the Young Writers Program
Imagine going to the playground with your siblings and watching as they hang on the monkey bars and climb on the playground and you couldn’t join in. I go to the playground to play not to sit and watch kids play, but unfortunately some kids do.

Oliver is a 6 year old boy who would love to play at the park with his two twin sisters, Lauren and Evelyn. But playing at the park is a challenge for Oliver because he is in a wheelchair.

Mariah Roberts is a big-hearted lady and good friend of Oliver and his family who decided to help raise money for a playground where all children can play. The playground will be built in Live Oak in Santa Cruz. The park is important because for example kids in wheelchairs and kids without can all play together. The project is called Leo’s Haven: L for Lauren, E for Evelyn, and O for Oliver.

Mariah got involved by working with Oliver’s parents, Tricia and Bob, to raise money for the all-inclusive playground by organizing fundraising events. One of the most successful events to raise money for the park was last summer at the 4th of July Firecracker Race in Aptos. The Sunrise Rotary Club hosted the event and helped Leo’s Haven get rolling with their fundraising.

I know Mariah personally, and when she told me about the project, I was eager to get involved too. When I went to my first event, I saw Mariah’s kids, Cleo and Finley, working away. They are very compassionate, and I could tell how much they care about making a playground where Oliver and all kids can play. Cleo and Finley were helping Lauren and Evelyn, Oliver’s sisters, raise money by selling cookies at an event where people could see pictures and learn more about the playground. I can tell they all really want to help Oliver. When I see Oliver at the event, he’s usually helping his sisters. Being part of the events has made me realize kids like me can make a difference. For the next fundraiser, we set up a cookie stand at Pleasure Point to help Leo’s Haven. We made sure people knew why they were buying the cookies so they were aware about what was happening and didn’t just buy cookies. We wanted them to want to help.

By getting involved, I realized we can all make a difference, even just by selling cookies and spreading the word about it.

When you put yourself in their shoes, you realize it’s only fair if there’s a park where all kids can play. Before this you probably weren’t even aware of this issue. You probably didn’t even realize that some kids can play at the playground and some can’t. When I went to the first event and realized what was happening, I was eager to help and come to more events.

So, to help out kids like Oliver, I go to most of the events to help raise money for Leo’s Haven because I think all children should be able to play together because all children are equal. Between big fundraisers and smaller events, Leo’s Haven has raised about a million dollars and needs about a million more.

This playground will be very important because it will be built so all kids can play. Everyone should feel included. Everyone should be accepted–a place where kids of all abilities can meet and play together. No barriers.

In the end, when the playground is done, I think Oliver and others will be happy to play at the park. I look forward to playing with Oliver and his sisters. Oliver and kids of all abilities will be able to go on the playground and swing and spin together–as it should be.
Sophie O’Rourke wants to be a farmer, a vet, an animal rescuer and an actor when she grows up. For now she likes theater, climbing, and playing with her sister Shayla and her pets, Mary, Singer, Blueberry, Manny, Bubbles and Bessie. Sophie is excited to have her story appear in the Young Writers Program publication.

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