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The first time

 

hadley first wheelchair 1997There are certain moments in a mother’s life that you will always remember, their first word, their first step, the first time they actually made it to the potty, their first date, their first kiss, their first “A”, the first team they “made” their first best friend, their first college acceptance letter… and in my case

The first wheel chair…

Hadley had been 5 years old and I had been carting her around in a stroller since birth, she was small, and it was easy to flip it open and put her in it, it was safe, she was happy… and I didn’t have to “think” about the inevitable…

And then the day came…

I knew it was coming… I couldn’t keep her in a stroller forever…

Although she was a small little girl I knew it was “time”…

No matter how easy a stroller was for me to throw in the back of my Volvo…

It was time…

And so we had her measured…

Even had her name monogrammed on it in purple… with purple sides… for our little girl…

Our little girl whose legs would never support her for long…

Our little girl whose legs get tired step after step…

Our little girl who just couldn’t stand on her own…

It was time…

When we put her in the wheelchair for the first time…

She was happy…

She tried to move it with her right hand and went in circles…

She smiled…

Me… not so much…

But I knew…

It was time…

Some kids dream about flying while other kids just dream about playing at a park

 

sarah and hadley Some say “necessity is the mother of all inventions,” that became evident to me one spring day in early 1996 when I brought my then 4 year old and 7 year old daughters to play at a local park. We were very excited to finally get out of the house from the winter doldrums and get some fresh air at the playground. My older daughter was thrilled to have a place to run around and I was just thrilled to get outside after winter.

When we got to the playground it was the usual ritual of letting my older daughter out of the car and having her bolt like lightening to the playground area, and for me, not so fast. I had to lift the wheelchair out of the back of the station wagon and then put my 4 year old daughter into it. When that 5 minute ordeal was over, we were off but almost immediately we were stopped by a timber barricade which seemed to be placed there to keep in mulch but very obviously was a problem for us. So, as usual supermom that I am, picked up both the wheelchair and my daughter over the timbers and then thought we were off. But again, not so easy to push a wheelchair over mulch, think of trying to drive over sand; it’s not so easy, is it?

We then caught up with my older daughter who was running from each piece of equipment to the next. When I finally told her to “hold up.” She exclaimed she wanted us to “come up” on the equipment. Come up? Now how exactly was that supposed to happen? Oh, I know the wheelchair was supposed to sprout wings. Well, that is what it would have taken to get her up on the equipment. And let’s say that actually could have happened, then what? Sit up there and watch from the tower while her sister ran around and around. This was no fun!

So my younger daughter and I went over to a seating area where I sat and we both watched my older daughter run around. At one point my older daughter came over to us a little frustrated but then realized when she came over to us that my younger daughter had a tear dripping down her face. That was it! That was the moment I went from a stay at home mom to a mom on a mission! Why was there not anything my children could do together? Why was there not anything I could do with my younger daughter while my older daughter played? This was going to change, it had to!

I went home and started drawing (coming from a design background, drawing was second nature to me) and visualizing what a perfect playground would look like. When my husband came home I told him about that days adventures and how I was now out to change the world. I had a dream; a goal- “to build a unique park where all children could play together with or without disabilities.” A park where through playing, the concepts would help all children socially, and cognitively, as well as physically. Equally as important, a place for children with disabilities to play with their own siblings and peers.

The ideas and visions of this playground resulted in the development of a theme-play park. Often a playground is considered strictly physical. Although, when the physical play is mastered, the appeal of the playground can lead to boredom. Theme-play offers a challenge to the child’s imagination and encourages children to play for extended periods of time.

My dream playground encompassed a Transportation Area, Pirate Ship, Frontier Village, Castle, Dinosaurs, and Main Street themes. In the design, accessibility was ensured through the implementation of the ADA requirements, CPSC and ASTM guidelines; those are playground rules.

By combining all of these elements in the design and equipment, my dream would create the best playground for all children to play!

That was the day I put on my “big girl pants” and “hard hat” and formed a non profit organization which would come to be known through out the country as Hadley’s Park. In 1999 after three years of lobbying and fundraising I raised the needed one million dollars to build my dream park which has gained much national recognition for its creativity and play-ability for ALL children.

Do you have any “fully” inclusive playgrounds near you? I’d love to hear about them!

Join me in my families journey and subscribe to I’m Still Standing to keep updated! I’m here to now share with you how you can build on your dreams of building a project like Hadley’s Park.

Bitter-Sweet

 

bittersweet strawberryIf this was a movie it would have all of the story of a true drama; mother gives birth to a child who suffers the trauma of a brain hemorrhage leading to a lifelong disability but what has come out of that child’s disability is truly a story of love and triumph not only for the family but the birth of two organizations which have changed the world as we know it today, improving the lives of so many children. This is the inspirational journey of the Kramm Family of and the story of the birth of FLAVORx and Hadley’s Park, the love they have for each other and families across the world.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the story…
Way back… Back to the early 80’s; the era of Madonna and the first personal computers when Kenny and Shelley Kramm met in college and went from best friends to sweethearts. They both graduated and received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland where Kenny studies concentrated on Advertising Design and Business and Shelley’s studies were Interior Design and Landscape Architecture. Kenny was a member of the Omicron Nu honors society and Shelley a member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority.

A year after graduating college and both working in the real world they were married and started their life together. After a few bumps in the world of Advertising and Design Kenny decided he had enough and went back to his families pharmacy where he enjoyed the daily interactions with the customers. He strived to give his customers 100% customer care.

Parenthood…
In 1988 Shelley and Kenny became proud parents after Shelley’s rather formidable pregnancy which ended in a 6 week hospital stay prior to the premature birth of their first daughter. Shelley’s pregnancy was complicated by Toxemia/Preeclampsia and Gallbladder problems and a car accident… Her OB actually called her “the girl with the little black rain cloud over her head”

However when Sarah was born at 34 weeks her prognosis was pretty bleak. With low apgar scores the doctors prepared Shelley and Kenny for the worst and told them that she would most likely be deaf, retarded, possibly blind and would never live on her own. Devastated at that moment Shelley and Kenny worried and wondered what was to become of their new little baby. However, things turned around and 14 days after she was born both Shelley and Sarah went home to begin their new life together. And parenthood began…

In 1992 after several attempts at getting pregnant again Shelley and Kenny finally got the news they were so longing for. Shelley was pregnant again. Fearing for the worse after her last pregnancy she was always worried that she would have a visit where she heard the words “protein in urine” and held her breath… or blood pressure spike… or sudden huge weigh gain… and in January 1992 that is what happened. And eight weeks before her March due date she was hospitalized again for Toxemia/Preeclampsia.

When Shelley’s blood pressure escalated out of control it was time to deliver the baby and at 12:00 noon a little 3lb 6oz baby girl who they named Hadley was born, with a loud cry. This thrilled both Shelley and Kenny, as in Sarah’s birth there was no cry. So they thought, thank god, we got through this again… But unfortunately on Hadley’s 10th day of life she suffered a grade 2 bilateral intracranial hemorrhage which changed her life and her families forever.

Hadley stayed in the hospital for a month and was released in early spring with a box of diapers, formula, goodbye’s and Kenny, Shelley, Sarah and Hadley all went home to their “new” life with a newborn baby with what they thought was a seizure disorder. Enter the life of three times a day medications, blood tests and weekly doctor visits.

Hadley was a happy little baby but Shelley worried that she wasn’t hitting milestones like her older sister Sarah did. And at 8 months she heard the words that changed her life yet again, “You’re child has cerebral palsy.” Life over the next few years would include daily medication, doctor’s visits, physical therapists visits, speech therapists, cognitive therapists.

The inspiration…
As like most children Sarah had the usual ear infections and didn’t like taking her medicine however for Hadley this wasn’t just a matter of not liking the taste, this was a matter of necessity. If Hadley didn’t take her medicine she would have a seizure and end up in the Emergency Room for countless hours. After several trips like this Shelley asked Kenny who worked at his family’s pharmacy to “do something.” So that is what Kenny did… Hours after the store closed Kenny and his father a pharmacist of 40 years spent time working on coming up with a flavor that would make Hadley’s Phenobarbital pleasant enough so that she would take it and stay out of the ER and from ultimately seizing. After several go rounds a banana flavor came to be and Hadley was happy to suck down her prior unpleasant tasting medication.

From that point a company was born…. Kenny became an entrepreneur out of necessity for his daughter. Spending a lot of time in those early years of the company around the Kramm family kitchen table another company was given birth to.

After experiencing a day of “inaccessible” angst. Shelley came home from the park with her two daughters she pulled out the drawing board and began to draw ideas for a playground for all children, with and without disabilities and that was the birth of what is known today as Hadley’s Park.

After starting a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, forming a Board of Directors, holding meetings, forming fundraising committees, hosting events, securing the land, lobbying before the Maryland General Assembly and the local government to secure state funds, she and her board raised the needed 1 Million dollars to build the playground. This was grass roots at its best, a true public private partnership.

In June 1996 Hadley’s Park opened its flagship one acre themed play playground which won numerous awards and was used as a model to build 25 more in the State of Maryland and several more in the DC Metro Area.

Shelley continued her work to bring fully inclusive playgrounds around the country and Canada by traveling and speaking about the importance of play for all children to Landscape Architects.

I am ABLE…
After growing up with a disabled sister Sarah Kramm had something to say and she wanted a platform to speak. So in 2005 she vied for the title of Miss Maryland Teen America which if crowned would give her the ability to speak around the state about the importance of understanding that we are all “able” and speak about discrimination of the disabled that she witness firsthand with her younger sister.

Sarah followed in her parents entrepreneurial footsteps and came up with a “band of hope” which she called the “I am ABLE” band and raised funds to help create fully inclusive playgrounds like Hadley’s Park Projects.

These two organizations grew, not out of a desire to succeed as businesses, but rather, as a source of healing for a family in the face of adversity. By helping Hadley, her family has paved the way for millions of other children that now have the opportunity to simply be kids like everyone else. Although Hadley can’t verbally communicate her thanks, you can tell by the look in her eyes and the smile on her face that she understands the world is a better place because she has lived.

And now…
The Kramm’s reside in the Washington DC suburbs with their two daughters, Sarah and Hadley. Since selling FLAVORx in 2007 and closing Hadley’s Park, Inc they now are in the next chapter of their life. Shelley is chronicling their journey as a family at I’m Still Standing.com as an impetus to writing a novel and hopefully a movie! *fingers crossed!!

I would love to have you stay in touch! Subscribe to I’m Still Standing or you can always contact Shelley.