Last year, Stan Konesky Jr. witnessed the struggle of a mom who fell, together with her child, while lifting the youngster into a handicap-accessible swing at Hammer Field. This week, with his family by his side, Konesky helped dedicate a new type of full-access, wheelchair-riding swing at Foote Park – one of the only of its type known to be in the shoreline area.
"After I saw them fall, I thought about the fact that, why don't we have something for a wheelchair?" said Konesky, who brought the idea to Parks and Recreation Director Alex Palluzzi.
The Konesky family contributed $1,000 toward the purchase of the new swing, which costs over $2,000, said Palluzzi. During a small dedication ceremony on August 10, Konesky and members of his family shared the swing also had a special meaning to his family, who dedicated it in honor of the late Geraldine "Gerri" Cipriani, a sister of Konesky's wife, Sandy.
"What you see here is the first in this area for kids in wheelchairs to participate in recreational activities in Gerri's name," said Stan Konesky.
Sandy Konesky said her sister, who passed away in 2005, was a treasured family member who enriched the family's life despite living with a severe mental handicap since the age of four. In dedicating the swing, "We wanted to do something for all the special needs children in Branford, so they can have somewhere to play and honor her memory," she said.
The hand-operated, metal platform swing with chain lowered-ramps requires one person to assist a wheelchair user. It accommodates any hand-operated wheelchair with brakes, said Parks and Recreation Department's Butch Cote, who installed the swing. Instructions for use are set to be installed beside the swing.
Konesky said his family was proud to help bring in the wheelchair swing, which is the first step in an effort to create an adaptive, multi-component accessible playground at Foote Park, which was given to the town by the Foote Family Trust two years ago. The town applies to the trust annually for grant money which is assisting with many improvements at the park, including resurfacing its standard tennis courts, improving irrigation on fields, and, most recently, resurfacing the clay tennis courts. Following the town's protocol with its other parks and fields, Foote Park is also now an all-organically maintained property, noted Palluzzi.
First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said the Konesky family's contribution is a big first step toward more improvements to the playground, which is one of two playscapes at Foote Park.
"When the town took ownership of the park, Alex Palluzzi and I talked about not only what we were going to do to maintain the park and bring back some of the things that were here in the past, when Wally Foote, through the Trust Fund, built this park for the enjoyment of all the residents of the Town of Branford and their guests," said Cosgrove. "We also said, 'How do we improve the park?' and one of the areas we thought we'd focus on was truly making this a park that could be enjoyed by all of Branford's residents."
Palluzzi noted the vision for what is hoped to become the park's adaptive-access playground involves looking at "all types" of options for those with physical disabilities, including sensory and auditory. Located just steps from the main parking lot, the playground with the new wheelchair swing is beside the park's facilities building, which already includes a handicapped-access bathroom but is anticipated to be renovated in the future to include even better, more integrated restroom facilities, said Cosgrove. The town has a facility upgrade plan, drawn up by local architect Joe Sepot, for which, "we hope to secure funding," for construction, said Cosgrove.
The town will also continue to develop planning for improvements to the playground. Palluzzi noted the discussion involves "all types" of accessibility options to help accomodate those with physical disabilities, such as auditory/sensory.
"On behalf of the town, I want to thank the Konesky family because it really takes that first effort; that first investment, to really become the catalyst and move it along," said Cosgrove, adding the town welcomes other donation efforts and contributions for the playground project.
"I thank the Konesky family for their generosity in donating toward this swing, so we can begin the vision of what we all see for this park," said Cosgrove. "I look forward to continuing to work with the family, and Parks and Recreation Department and other residents of Branford to truly make this an asset for all of Branford's residents."