By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Regional Rehabilitation Center is getting a big assist to make therapy more fun for its youngest clients.
BlueCross & BlueShield of Mississippi Foundation officially donated $101,000 Thursday to fully fund construction of a special-needs playground at the Tupelo center, which provides physical, occupational and speech therapy services free of charge.
“We hope this playground will improve the health and well-being of these children,” said Sheila Grogan, executive director of the BlueCross & BlueShield of Mississippi Foundation.
The “Raspberry Patch,” whose name honors Regional Rehab founder Bob “Red” Raspberry, will become an outdoor therapy room.
“He would have loved this,” said Raspberry’s grandson, Chuck Barber. “This was his passion…. The last 38-40 years of his life was devoted to building and growing the center.”
Since the Regional Rehabilitation Center staff moved back into a renovated facility two years ago, creating a playground has been high on the list of priorities, said Executive Director Kay Mathews.
“It’s all about having a natural environment,” Mathews said.
The playground will have sensory panels and structures that can accommodate physical disabilities. The planners have incorporated shade and safe play surfaces as well as worked around utilities and a loud air-conditioning unit.
“Regional Rehab has always been on the cutting edge,” said Ellen Harrison, a landscape architect with Landscape Services of Tupelo. “We want to carry it forward with the playground.”
Siblings and friends will be able to use the playground with supervision, and they will become part of the therapy experience for the clients, Mathews said. That social interaction is especially helpful for the center’s clients who have autism spectrum disorders. However, the space will not be open to the public.