Will You Play With Me?
As a boy, Spencer Hawk loved school field trips to a playground where he could soar on the swings, slip down slides, and make new friends. It was a childhood rite of passage that was only available to Hawk – an elementary student with TAR Syndrome, resulting in amputated limbs – in a few places in the world in the early 2000s. One of them was his hometown of Los Angeles.
At that playground built by the L.A.-based nonprofit Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration, Hawk played with typically developing kids on the field trips, which are part of an innovative education program that teaches social inclusion.
Creating equitable playgrounds where children with disabilities can “form friendships and be honored and respected” is the mission of Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration, says CEO Tiffany Harris, who co-founded the nonprofit with friends Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams in memory of their son Shane Alexander Williams, who died from complications of spinal muscular atrophy as a newborn.
In Shane’s memory, the friends rallied community support and built a playground for kids of all abilities in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park in 2000. Then they heard from a parent who said driving across the city was tiring for their son Aidan who had special needs. Could they build another one on the West Side?
Inclusion Matters is now a global inclusion movement with 40 inclusive playgrounds around Los Angeles and 35 and counting on four continents. The playgrounds are designed for ALL kids while accounting for wheelchair mobility needs, hearing and sight impairments, sensory processing challenges, and more. The nonprofit’s inclusion curriculum for schools has been delivered to 50,000 Los Angeles students in 250 schools, downloaded in 65 countries, and a new graduate-level curriculum is rolling out at universities.
Today, Hawk is in college and an inclusion advocate for Inclusion Matters, as well as a Kindness Ambassador for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation (BTWF).
“What made the playground so amazing wasn’t just the equipment, but the kindness that blossomed everywhere,” he said when he was invited to speak about the value of inclusion at a virtual BTWF Talk on kindness and family in 2020. “I would not be who I am today without that kindness.”
CEO/Co-Founder: Tiffany Harris
To create inclusive playgrounds and educational programs that unite children of all abilities.
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You know that feeling when you go somewhere and you just feel like you belong? Almost instantly, the weight and worry about judgement about being ‘too different’ suddenly is lifted and you can suddenly be free, so comfortable in your own skin you don’t even know where to begin to try and describe it. Well that’s what was going on inside us today when we visited the Shane’s Inspiration playground in Griffith Park for the first time.
If You Build It, They Will Come — But Only If They Have a Ride
Playground field trips where kids of all abilities learn to play together are vital to the mission of Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration. The field trips teach typically-developing kids compassion and advocacy as they learn to play with differently abled kids. You can help fund transportation for this program:
$450: Bus for up to 5 students using wheelchairs.
$2,500: Multiple buses for a single field trip, serving up to 55 students.
$25,000: Buses for all field trips for a year.
Corporate and philanthropic organizations are invited to partner with Inclusion Matters on developing playgrounds in Los Angeles or globally, with budgets ranging between $500,000 – $2,500,000.
Kurt Marsden, Wells Fargo
Katherine Bell, Paul Hastings LLP
Ed Czajka, Preferred Bank
Jeff Garavanian, City National Bank
Jeff Apploff, Producer
Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration
Tommy Hollenstein, Artist/Advocate
Dr. Carol Kurz, Kaiser Permanente
Los Angeles Special Kids Attorney
Kat Scudder, Disney
Vinisha Vijay, City National Bank
Anita Wright, Northrop Grumman
Madelyn Alfano & Jeff Tucker
Mary Ann Hunt-Jacobsen
& Eric Jacobsen
Debie & Kurt Marsden
Pat & Nancy McCabe
Gina Goldman & Walter Schupfer
Michelle Schumacher & J.K. Simmons
Katherine Bell & Gabe Steffans
& Scott Williams (Founders)