Camdenton installs communication board, wheelchair swing in park, furthering goal to become Autism Friendly destination

Mitch Prentice
Left to right: Camdenton Parks Director Larry Bennett, GO CAPS Program director Ann Hopper, area GO CAPS facilitator Sara Light, Lebanon student Kali Garner and Camdenton student Sadie Delmotte stand next to the newly installed Communication board in Camdenton park.

In 2018, the city of Camdenton announced its goal to work towards becoming an Autism Friendly City alongside partner Stars for Autism . Several other municipalities in southwest Missouri had adopted the autism friendly program, including Battlefield and Bolivar. Two years later, the city has completed another goal on their list with the inclusion of a wheelchair accessible swing, a harness equipped swing and a brand-new communication board.

Camdenton Parks Director Larry Bennett has been working alongside a number of partners over the last two years to make these projects a reality, including F.U.S.E.D. (Families United for Support and Encouragement of Disabilities) and the local GO CAPS project leaders.

Bennett says the idea for the wheelchair swings was brought to his attention in 2019. He approached Camdenton Mayor McNabb with the idea and the funds were set in place to buy and install the equipment at the end of the year.

Michelle Waters, special education teacher at Dogwood Elementary, says F.U.S.E.D. alongside Camdenton teachers were appreciative of the swings to give special needs kids new accessibility to playground equipment and helped to run their own fundraisers in support of the park’s efforts.

“It’s a great addition and a great step towards making the park accessible to all,” Waters said.

In February 2020, Bennett says he was approached by the students and leadership of GO CAPS with a student led project to create communication boards for both Camdenton and Lebanon parks. The project was funded partially by GO CAPS fundraisers, Camdenton teacher fundraisers and also by the city of Camdenton.

Lebanon student Kali Garner says they came up with the idea for their GO CAPS class that would stand out and make an impact on the communities involved. Both Garner and Camdenton student Sadie Delmotte knew what they were looking for and wanted to design the board to match the vision of the parks involved.

Delmotte summarized the function of a communication board as a way for those with disabilities to communicate in different ways by pointing to a picture on the board to better translate what they are trying to convey. The board installed in Camdenton is usable on both sides to allow easier access.

The pair says they weren’t sure if they would be able to finish the project with COVID-19 putting an end to their school year early. However, getting to finally see the finished project on Monday morning, they were proud of the work they were able to complete.

Sara Light, area GO CAPS facilitator, says they have a goal to give their students a community impact project. Garner and Delmotte are part of the medical program and used this communication board to help impact their communities in Camdenton and Lebanon. Program director Ann Hopper says they want to give students an avenue of connection to their hometown to keep them in the area after graduation.

“This is a way for them to give back to the community and business partners who helped them along the way,” Hopper said.

Bennett says they have a couple of future projects planned to continue improving their goals for the park. He says that the next to be completed is a fence surrounding the park and to add ramps to each of the playground areas. However, there is no current roadmap for completion as much of the funding for the park has slowed during the pandemic.

“We appreciate these people a lot for all of their help. Their commitment makes these projects possible” Bennett said.