After months of , and construction, O'Fallon's all-inclusive opened in over the weekend.
The playground was named after nine-year-old Brendan Schmitt, a student who suffers from Thompson Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that makes it difficult for him to use traditional playground equipment.
The all-inclusive playground is specially designed with features that allow kids of all abilities to play together.
On Saturday afternoon, O'Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy officiated the grand opening ceremony, thanking the numerous volunteers who helped bring the playground to O'Fallon and telling the crowd how inspired he is by Brendan's strength.
“Today is about a young boy who has inspired each and every one of us to strive for something that seemed out of reach," Hennessy said. "Today’s about a community coming together on a project that is bigger than all of us. Today is about O’Fallon creating a new legacy for all of our residents."
O'Fallon resident Natalie Blakemore co-founded the non-profit Unlimited Play Inc. in 2003 to build a playground that would allow children of all abilities to play side-by-side.
Blakemore addressed the crowd on Saturday and said she was overwhelmed by the turnout for the grand opening. She said she started Unlimited play because she wanted her 10-year-old son Zachary, who suffers from a rare genetic central nervous system disease, to be able to play with friends at local playgrounds.
But after building Zachary's Playground in Lake Saint Louis, the Blakemores started receiving calls from families across the country who also wanted to see their children to have the opportunity to play instead of watching from the sidelines. They knew they had to keep building.
Since then the organization has raised funds and helped build all-inclusive playgrounds in Lake Saint Louis, Clayton, O'Fallon and has plans to build in another playground in St. Charles.
During Saturday's opening ceremony, Brendan shared a speech he wrote thanking the Mayor, Unlimited Play and all of the volunteers who helped build the playground.
"It is so important for kids to accept other kids, for who they are and the gifts they bring into this world, even those who are different and sick and must go to to the hospital often," Brendan added. "Some of us have bigger mountains to climb and Brendan's playground is a dream come true to me, my family and hundreds of other people."
Brendan ended his speech with a spirited "Now let's play!" as the crowd of nearly 1,000 cheered. Brendan and Hennessy cut the ceremonial ribbon and hundreds of kids rushed through the entrance to try out the musical instruments, slides, ramps and swings for the first time.
Read More About Brendan's Playground on O'Fallon Patch