Janesville woman still earning accolades for CAMDEN Playground
To vote for those competing for a trip to the Major League Baseball all-star game in Anaheim, Calif., go to mlb.com/peopleallstarsamongus/ and click on the Milwaukee Brewers logo. A new screen will pop up displaying the three finalists. Click on the “Vote for me” button. Users can vote as many times as they want by reloading the page.
JANESVILLE When Sherry Kuelz got a call from People Magazine, she immediately brushed it off.
“When you get a call from someone saying they’re from People Magazine like that, you’re like, ‘Yeah right.’”
They informed her that she is one of 90 national finalists for the magazine’s “All-Stars Among Us” contest, which honors people who’ve served as leaders and role models in their community. If enough readers vote for her, she could get a free trip to the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
The reason for the possible ballpark trip is her work at Palmer Park two decades ago.
During a trip to a local playground in 1989, Kuelz noticed an eager look on the face of her nephew Camden as he watched Kuelz’s children play on the jungle gym and rush down the slide.
But he couldn’t join them. Camden was disabled. While he could occasionally walk, he didn’t have the balance to use the playground. After a talk with his sister’s boyfriend, who was researching accessible playgrounds for a class in Madison at the time, Kuelz realized Janesville didn’t have any playgrounds accessible to special needs kids. She set out to change that.
Over the next four years, Kuelz and a board of 30 members formed a non-profit organization to design, plan and build the first 100 percent accessible playground in the world at Palmer Park. Since she couldn’t technically name it after a person, she decided to use her nephew’s name for an acronym: Community Accessibility Medium Dealing with Exception Needs.
In May 1993, with the help of more than $136,000 in donations and 3,000 volunteers, CAMDEN became a reality. The playground has softer ground made of Fibar for wheelchairs, ramps that go through the entire structure and bucket-seat swings. It’s the size of a football field.
Since CAMDEN’s completion, Kuelz has created an instructional booklet for anyone looking to do the same in their community. It comes with plans of the playground, tips for bringing it to local government officials and fundraising techniques.
Kuelz estimates that 150 similar playgrounds have been built across the country, with a few popping up in Holland, Japan and Canada. She still gathers volunteers to maintain the playground once a year, using money raised by South Central Wisconsin Harley Owners Group.
While the project itself has received accolades and awards, Kuelz did not plan on any further recognition.
Then her daughter nominated her for the “All-Star” contest. Kuelz was invited to a Brewers-Twins doubleheader, where she sat in prime seats behind the dugout. She was introduced on the field before the game, along with fellow Wisconsin finalists Denae Davis of Milwaukee and Mitch Arnold of Fort Atkinson.
Davis started Pearls for Teen Girls, which helps build skills and self-esteem for teenagers going through high school. Arnold started Peace is the Goal, an organization that donates soccer equipment to kids around the world.
Kuelz certainly would like to win, but she hopes the publicity will inspire more people to address the needs of those with disabilities.
“Lot’s of people have special needs,” Kuelz said. “I have diabetes and epilepsy. I have special needs. Some people wear glasses. They have special needs.
“A lot of us have special needs of some kind.”