Gwendolyn Strong Foundation (www.NeverGiveUp.org), a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit building the first inclusive playground in Santa Barbara County, will host its first fundraising event Friday, Nov. 8, at Hidden Oaks Ranch.

Some 200 people are expected to attend the sold-out event to raise money to build Gwendolyn’s Playground. Lunch will be served under the oak trees, with a poolside raffle featuring an array of experiences and items. Sponsoring partners include: BMW of Santa Barbara, Bella Vista Designs, Duo Catering, and Bright Event Rentals.

Andrew Firestone will be the emcee for the event, which includes a performance by his 9-year-old daughter Anja Firestone, whose original song, “Where We Belong” benefits Gwendolyn’s Playground.

“We are so thrilled by the enthusiastic response of the community to bring much-needed inclusive play to our incredible city,” said Victoria Strong, executive director of Gwendolyn Strong Foundation.

“We have an opportunity to not only provide play for the one in four of us living with a disability who are currently left on the sidelines, but also to reimagine and elevate public play spaces to be more for everyone, simultaneously fostering empathy and understanding in the next generation,” she said.

In partnership with the city of Santa Barbara and Parks and Recreation, Gwendolyn’s Playground is an integral component of the redevelopment project at Dwight Murphy Field that includes a multi-sport field and baseball field.

Innovative, imaginative and sensory-rich, Gwendolyn’s Playground goes beyond current ADA standards by removing physical and social barriers and sparking a sense of adventure in everyone.

Gwendolyn’s Playground considers the many ways people learn, incorporating the needs of children and adults with a multitude of differences, from physical disabilities to autism and sensory impairments, while providing dynamic movement opportunities for everyone to challenge themselves in a variety of collaborative experiences.

Gwendolyn’s Playground will provide an important missing component to support the development of all children in the community.

A tenacious little girl who loved nothing more than being one of the kids, Gwendolyn Strong is the inspiration behind Gwendolyn’s Playground. Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), Gwendolyn was profoundly physically disabled and medically fragile but that never affected her sense of fun.

Despite ADA-compliant playgrounds throughout the area, not one allowed Gwendolyn to play alongside her friends or participate fully in public spaces with her peers.

After 10 years of advocacy and nonprofit work offering practical support to families and funding research that led to a treatment and a groundbreaking potential cure for SMA, the Strong family set their sights on spearheading the first truly inclusive playground in the region in Gwendolyn’s memory.

— Erinn Lynch for Gwendolyn Strong Foundation.