By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The VIPs used safety scissors to officially open the Rasberry Patch therapeutic playground at the Regional Rehabilitation Center on Wednesday.
The center’s young clients, their siblings and friends cut the ribbon on the special-needs playground named after Regional Rehab’s late champion and longtime executive director John “Red” Rasberry.
“It’s all because of Mr. Rasberry and his love for children that we are here in the Rasberry Patch today,” said Kay Mathews, the current executive director for the center which provides physical, occupational and speech therapy services free of charge. About 85 percent of the center’s clients are children.
The playground was designed as an extension of the therapy spaces where children receiving services can play with siblings and friends. The therapists will use it to work on the skills with their clients in a more natural environment.
“It increases their level of interest,” said physical therapist Brandy Evans. “It doesn’t feel as much like work.”
A $101,000 grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi Foundation made the playground possible, and community partners like the Lee County Board of Supervisors and local landscaping businesses provided in-kind donations and support, Mathews said. The result is a bright space with bouncy surface and playground equipment accessible to kids with disabilities.
“We’re grateful,” said Jody Hill, president of the Regional Rehabilitation Center.
Four-year-old Hannah Long of Blue Springs, a Regional Rehab client, demonstrated the equipment with her twin sister Hailey on Wednesday.
“It’s good for them to have a place they can both play together,” said dad Matt Long. The safety features of the playground mean Hannah, who wears leg braces and uses a walker, can have more room to try things on her own.
“I don’t need any help,” the 4-year-old said, testing the equipment.
Red Rasberry, who retired in 1995 and died two years ago, had a deep dedication for special-needs children that was inspired by the trials of his brother, Harold, who had polio, and was made possible by his wife, Lora V. “Bunny” Rasberry.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Rasberry imagined his father shaking his head in heaven over what he would consider an undeserved honor of having the playground named for him.
“It was up to God and the good people of Lee County, not me,’” his father would say.