The first playground is complete. Because of your support.

On November 28, 2012, the first soft surface playground in Augusta was poured. And it spawned from a “what if.”

Many of you already know that my daughter Jaiden inspired Project Jai Play, a special project fund to raise money so that we can provide approximately 3,000 square feet of soft surface for all four of USD 402’s grade school playgrounds. Jaiden utilizes a walker. Mulch and pea gravel prohibited her from accessing playground equipment as her wheels refused to roll on such surfaces.

Last week, numerous Garfield staff, paras and parents – and an Ewalt teacher – joined us while we provided security so that the soft surface was protected. We quite literally camped out at Garfield in very cold temps and breezes while the soft surface dried. And on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 when the playground was complete, we had dozens of visitors who simply wanted to see the soft surface, touch it and even walk on it. We hope to do it again in the spring when funds have been secured to finish Garfield and then move on to the next USD 402 school.

In the few moments I was alone watching the crew pour the surface, I couldn’t help but tear up. Eight months and one day after Project Jai Play was founded, we accomplished something many thought we wouldn’t – our first soft surface playground in Augusta. But our success wasn’t what moved me to tears. I realized that for the first time ever, my daughter would be able to get to the playground equipment. She would no longer be blacktop bound. She would be able to really participate at recess with her fellow classmates.

I thought of Jordyn, my feisty, healthy six-year-old. And the smile on her face every time a donation would come in. Her desire to look at our website often and follow our progress. She too would benefit from our efforts. She would be safer at recess.

I also thought about how we nearly called it quits, how I have spoken to group after group about soft surface, how I now know more than I will ever need to know about fall hazards, ADA code, sub-base, 50/50 coloring and more.

Things happen for a reason. I have always believed that is true. And everything leading up to a moment got us to that very moment. For us, our struggle to have children, our hellacious adoption, Jaiden’s disabilities, the birth of Jordyn. All the bumps along the way played an important part in not only the creation of Project Jai Play but also the very first playground PJP funded.

I am a master at the “what if” game. In fact, I am so good that I drive my family and friends crazy with all of my “what ifs.” What if we hadn’t adopted Jaiden? What if Jaiden were a typical, healthy kid without limitations? After all, we returned to Augusta seeking more educational opportunities for our special needs angel. But had she not had limitations or special needs, we would still be in another town. Had she not had limited access to playground equipment, we would have never even thought to create Project Jai Play.

On March 27, 2012, a simple “what if” became “why not” when my best friends and I founded Project Jai Play. Garfield Elementary wanted my opinion on playground equipment. The equipment didn’t matter to me because Jaiden couldn’t get to it. Mulch had to go. Pea gravel had to go. How can she play on it if she can’t get to it? We desperately needed a soft, seamless surface that would allow her to access all the equipment.

Lycrecia Garrison explains it best. “Jaiden has changed my way of looking at everything. I see all the hazards. All the dangers. All the limitations.” And Lycrecia, paraprofessional and PJP co-founder, knows even more than I do when it comes to recess time and what Jaiden can and cannot do. She lives it every day with her.

So, yes. Project Jai Play started because my kid couldn’t get to the equipment. It started because she suffered many falls because the smallest pebble or piece of mulch made her walker spill over. Yes. She is just one kid. But there are so many more who benefit.

Like Dr. Seuss said, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The first playground is complete. Because of your support. Your trust in us. Your desire to keep our kids even safer. Because YOU cared a whole awful lot. But we must continue on.

Jaiden and Jordyn were the first children to walk on the soft surface. Jaiden was thrilled and Jordyn was beyond proud of what Project Jai Play had accomplished.

I am amazed by the ripple effect that is Jaiden. Every one who knows her or works with her is moved by her. I am too on a daily basis. But what if she weren’t here? What if we hadn’t adopted her? What if she were a happy, healthy, typical kid?

Project Jai Play probably wouldn’t exist.

Let Jai play. That’s all my seven-year-old girl wants to do anyway. Let all kids play. Safely and with access to the playground equipment. That’s what all children want to do and so, we must continue on.

As Lycrecia would tell you, “We won’t stop until we soft surface the world.”

Hmmm. What if…

Jaime Simpson is a Gazette columnist, the busy mother of two girls, a wife and business owner.