How far you would you go to fulfil your child’s dream? Here is a story of a father who built a theme park for his disabled daughter. She how it changed their lives…
Gordon Hartman and his family were on a vacation. His 12-year-old daughter Morgan, went up to some children near the pool so that she could play with them. But the children left from there without being friends with her. Hartman thinks the children shied away as they didn’t probably want to play with a child who had a disability. Yes! Morgan has the cognitive understanding of a five-year-old as well as a form of autism.
Once they were back from the vacation the incident kept playing back and forth in Hartman’s mind. At the same time, he also realised that Morgan was a wonderful girl but because of her disability they could not take her everywhere. He also understood that Morgan wanted to play and mix around with children but could not. He and his wife spoke to other parents if they knew about a place where they could take their children and they would enjoy without being shunned. But in vain there was no such place.
Then, in the year 2007, Hartman took a big decision … a decision that was made for his daughter and would ultimately change not only their lives but any other child with special needs. In 2005, Hartman, who was a property developer sold his homebuilding business and set up The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation. This was a non-profit organisation which helped people and children with disabilities. Soon he stepped forward to build the “world’s first ultra-accessible theme park”.
This park became his dream and a gift which he wanted his daughter to have. Not only that he wanted the park to be a place where anyone and everyone could enjoy and children with special needs could play without being frowned upon.
He worked hard to transform a disused quarry in San Antonio, Texas. He worked with the help of a large team which had therapists, doctors, parents of disabled children and many other people with and without disabilities to seek consultation on facilities.
Finally, in the year 2010, the park which was called Morgan’s Wonderland opened. The park which cost around $34m was fully working with attractions like the Ferris Wheel, Miniature Train and an adventure playground. The park also has a carousel with specially designed chariots for wheelchairs that go up and down with the animals (however, his daughter Morgan took almost 3 years to overcome her fear to ride on the carousel).
Since it’s opening the park has received more than a million visitors from different countries and all across America. Hartman knows that Morgan is lucky because she has a huge place to play. Keeping this in mind he did not want the other children with special needs to not have a place to play. So he does not charge anything for their entry … it is free for them as he didn’t want cost to be a barrier for them.
The latest addition to the park was a fully accessible water park, and he named it Morgan’s Inspiration Park. This addition was made keeping in mind that the wheelchairs become too hot in July and few people visit. It boasts of areas which use warm water to help people with muscular problems. It also has access to boat rides in the river and motorised wheelchairs which run on compressed air instead of batteries.
Hartman feels ecstatic when parents of children come and thank him. He also loves the fact that his dream has come true. Most people who come to the park are not disabled. The park seems to be having the effect which Hartman had thought about … A dream of seeing the normal children play without any hesitations with children who had special needs.
Morgan, now 23 still goes to the park with her dad and is a constant strength for her parents. She knows that the park is named after her. However, she is not aware of the fact that she has changed many lives. She is indeed her father’s true inspiration.