After four years of fundraising, Build Jake’s Place, a nonprofit dedicated to building all-inclusive playgrounds for children and adults with disabilities, has built its second playground, this one at Delran Community Park. Recently, the organization worked with Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach Home Services, among many other community volunteers, to construct the South Jersey-themed park.
Joseph Nasto, president and co-founder of Build Jake’s Place, along with his wife Kathleen Cummings Nasto, decided to build the first Jake’s Place in Cherry Hill in honor of their son, Jake. Their son was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a birth defect where the left side of the heart doesn’t form correctly. Jake passed away when he was 2 years old, however, before his passing, the Nastos were encouraged to take him to playgrounds for physical therapy.
“My son needed physical and occupational therapy,” said Nasto. “So instead of doing it all of the time at the house, we used to go to a playground that was close by. He loved going there, so my wife had the idea of starting a balanced playground so that any child with a disability can go to any part of the playground. Even the highest part, not just a small part of the park. It took us four years to raise the money for the Cherry Hill playground and now another four years to raise the money here in Delran.”
At the time the Nastos set out to accomplish their original goal, there were no all-inclusive parks like the one they sought to create. According to Nasto, it was sort of a pipe dream since no one had any full idea on how to create an all-inclusive playground. However despite the long process, the organization’s hard work paid off.
“We built the first one in 2011, and I never thought in a million years that we would do another one,” said Nasto. “But from hearing the stories from the people that were involved in the Cherry Hill one and seeing the lives that we touched, it’s beyond incredible. Even to this day, when I drive by, even in bad weather the park is packed, and now we’re able to spread that not only for the residents of Camden County, but now for the residents of Burlington County.
“It’s actually funny because the original design that we wanted to do for Cherry Hill is actually the one we’re using for Delran,” Nasto continued. “It’s a South Jersey theme so when you first enter the park, you enter Philadelphia. You have city hall, then if you go past that, there’s a blue structure which is the Ben Franklin Bridge.
“Cross the bridge and now you’re in Jersey. We have a farm, a tractor and a red barn farmhouse structure, and that’s for the farming part of Jersey. After that, you have a ship and fish structure. That’s the ocean part. We have a sign that says Down the Shore. Then there’s the suburban side. There’s a house with a picket fence. There’s going to be turnpike when the rubberized surfacing comes and that’s going to tie it all together. They’ll be a roadway, the ocean part will be blue, the farm part will be green and the sand will be tan.”
Due to the success the Jake’s Place playgrounds have had on the community, the organization was able to help pass a law called “Jake’s Law” in August 2018. The law was signed by Gov. Murphy and states that every county in the state has to build an all-inclusive playground like Jake’s Place. While the nonprofit will continue to build parks and potentially move toward consulting, volunteers can continue to help and register for future events at www.buildjakesplace.org.