Prior to my summer internship at Magical Bridge Foundation, I had a rather cynical view of society. I felt that any attempt to make a positive difference was just a band-aid fix, while the root cause was a corrupt system that one person alone couldn’t change.
My mindset shifted, however, when I learned the story of Olenka Villarreal, the founder of Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto. Olenka’s daughter wasn’t able to use swings at the playground due to a physical disability. But rather than avoiding playgrounds altogether, something which most families with disabled children often do, Olenka did something about it: she founded the truly inclusive Magical Bridge Playground, accessible to kids and adults with and without disabilities. Olenka’s activism made a real impact on people’s lives. Seeing this made me realize that activism does not need to solve every problem in the world in order to be impactful: change just needs to start somewhere. Knowing how powerfully Magical Bridge improves the lives of those with disabilities, I was thrilled to participate in their summer internship program to learn about and engage with social responsibility—and ultimately learn how I could have a hand in improving the world.
The bulk of my internship was spent creating a short documentary to introduce Magical Bridge Playground and how it benefits the community. I interviewed children, parents of children with special needs, community leaders, and Magical Bridge enthusiasts, and learned about specific challenges these families face. As these families are part of the minority, they are often marginalized; society does not cater to their needs as a result, and they must fight for accommodation. I spoke with two pre-teen sisters, one of whom was disabled and unable to use traditional playground structures because of her wheelchair, but at Magical Bridge, she could access almost every structure. Her sister was so mature and caring towards her disabled sister that I teared up during the interview. Another girl, Xiaomi, traveled all the way from Taiwan to enjoy an inclusive playground for the first time, which influenced her mother to promote inclusive playgrounds back in Taiwan. Impressed with this mother’s immense dedication, I translated the video into Mandarin, hoping to reach a larger population.
I was profoundly moved by the struggle for these marginalized families to become integrated. I learned that improving the world is a team effort that requires collaboration. I worked day and night, harder than I had ever worked on anything, fueled by how much I cared about the project and its impact. It was an intense few weeks, but I was proud of the final video, which was posted on MBP’s website to raise awareness for accessible parks.
After the internship, I realized that although the universe is irrational, chaotic, and often confusing, emotions are real and the pain those feel as a result of being excluded by those in power is real. We each have the responsibility to do what we can to mitigate this collective pain. If we act in a way that increases collective well-being, everyone benefits. We do not just have the ability to effect change, but it is also our responsibility: each of our actions, no matter how big or small, has outcomes that can either be helpful or hurtful to those around us. Knowing this, I used my privilege to speak on behalf of those whose voices are not heard.
Through creating the video, speaking to city council members, and meeting donors, I witnessed power in action. As part of an important mission to improve the long-term well-being of kids with disabilities, I saw first-hand how one person can truly make a difference, and how one person truly should make a difference. I also discovered that magic is real; everyone has a spark of magic. Magic is found in people who face issues they care about head-on, like when they bridge communities together through the power of playgrounds. When I grow up, I’d like to be an osteopathic physician who researches treatments for children with autism .
Overall, working with Magical Bridge saved me from my negative, cynical mindset. I could not be more grateful to have had the honor to work with the Magical Bridge team and to have empowered others through the power of video. Working with Magical Bridge Foundation reminds me of the magic of optimism, which will and must outshine the cynicism and hatred in the world today.
This article was written by Victoria Helmer. Victoria was an intern with Magical Bridge Foundation the summer of 2016, and continues to advocate for and promote inclusive play for EVERYONE. Victoria is currently a Freshman at Whitman College.