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Wheelchair access campaign under way

Fundraiser at 2nd Street Bakery Saturday

Recorder/Paul Franz
Heather Norwood with her son Jacob Norwood, 9, and daughter Anna Norwood, 5, at Unity Park playground on Thursday.

Recorder/Paul Franz Heather Norwood with her son Jacob Norwood, 9, and daughter Anna Norwood, 5, at Unity Park playground on Thursday.

MONTAGUE — Remember your first time on a swing set? All that falling and no skinned knees, the moment of suspense at the top of the arc, pausing in mid air, chains momentarily slack before gravity and the swing sling the rider down and back?

Swings are a fundamental part of the childhood landscape, and a group of Montague residents doesn’t want anyone to be left out.

Area charitable organization A Friend to Friend would like to bring a wheelchair-accessible swing to Unity Park, is are raising money to do so.

Heather Norwood of Turners Falls touched off the effort by commenting on a Montague Parks and Recreation Facebook post extolling the virtues of the remodeled Unity Park.

Norwood’s daughter Anna, 5, can use the swings but her son Jacob, 9, cannot.

Jacob has FOXG1 syndrome and cannot walk or support himself sufficiently to use a swing or any other piece of standard playground equipment. The Norwoods hope that will change, and Jacob and others will be able to do more than watch their siblings at the park.

“For Jacob to be able to do something that all of the other kids out there can do, is just, I can’t even put words to what it would mean to us as a family,” Heather Norwood said. “It also normalizes him for the other kids in the community, to see him doing things that they do, it takes away some of that hesitation because he’s ‘different.’”

It’s also good socialization for him, as well as therapeutic; the family installed a platform-style swing in their home for Jacob as an infant. “For first two years of his life, the only place he would sleep was in a swing,” Norwood said, but the swing doesn’t support a wheelchair and Jacob is growing.

If the group reaches its tentative $15,000 goal, the swing will be the only one of its kind in Franklin County and will join only a dozen of its caliber in the United States.

Lesley Cogswell, a founding member of the group — and a member of the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee — said Norwood’s Facebook comment was the impetus for the effort.

“It just sort of hit me; something different needs to happen here,” Cogswell said.

The something different the 20-member group eventually settled on is a swing made by an Australian company.

The Liberty Swing incorporates a platform accessible by a collapsible ramp and suspended from four hinged poles. The swing platform is roomy and rugged enough to accommodate standard or powered wheelchairs, and can carry up to 550 lbs. The manufacturer bills it as “the only swing of its type that is fully lockable and allows a maximum swing height – that is, really swinging, not just rocking back and forth.”

Cogswell said both Parks and Recreation Director Jon Dobosz and the town Recreational Commission approved, and Dobosz has already selected a spot in the park, near the field house.

Unity Park, between First and Third streets in Turners Falls, is in the midst of the second phase of an improvement project that has already brought new wheelchair-friendly surfaces to replace sand or wood chips.

The specialized swing costs $12,500, an additional $1,800 in shipping, and the installation will also require fencing around the heavy swing, excavation work and an appropriate base. With the conservative $15,000 goal, Cogswell said the hope is that local companies will volunteer their services.

Local, in this case, is broadly defined; as the swing would be the only one of its kind in western Massachusetts, donation buckets are bound for Hampshire County.

The group is already one-fifth of the way toward the goal, with a fall 2014 installation in mind.

On Saturday, 2nd Street Baking Co. on Fourth Street hosts a benefit for the project with special-edition sugar cookies and homemade lemonade on the patio from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A Yankee Candle gift basket raffle and a portion of the bakery sales will also go to the swing fund.

Other fundraisers already in the wings include a trivia night at The Harp bar in Amherst next month and a benefit downhill from the park at Jake’s Tavern on Avenue A.

The campaign itself represents a big step for A Friend to Friend. Begun last year as a small scale Facebook-based charitable group, the group has organized bone marrow and food drives and helped about a dozen individual families, Cogswell estimates.

Now, the group is filing for nonprofit corporate status.

“I think the benefits are, one, people take us more seriously, people trust us more, and the fact that you can apply for grants and get into the bigger realm of charity work,” Cogswell said.

A Friend to Friend operates through its Facebook page and its website, afriendtofriend.com.

Those interested in donating to the swing fund may do so through links on webpage to the project’s account on “crowdsourcing” site gofundme.com, or via check to:

Greenfield Savings Bank, c/o Linda Ackerman, 282 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA 01376, checks payable to “A Friend to Friend - accessible swing project.”

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