When I was a middle school student, I was granted the opportunity to spend a week learning about the Magical Bridge Playground coming to Palo Alto, which was still only a dream. As a twelve year old girl, I thought the concept of a playground designed to include all people was intriguing, but I did not understand the significance this would have on a community.

I couldn’t imagine how much a week would change the way I perceived inclusion in our society.

One of the first activities Olenka Villarreal, Founder of Magical Bridge did with our group, was an excercise of rolling a wheelchair at a local playground and seeing how far we could push ourselves through the space. One would assume in a city as innovative, and advanced as Palo Alto, California,  a wheelchair accessible playground would have been met years ago. Yet, much to my surprise, we hardly made it out of the car when the wheels stopped rolling. There was tanbark, something I had seen on playgrounds for as long as I could remember, but for the first time I thought to myself that tanbark stood as a divide in society — mothers and fathers in wheelchairs never get to play with their kids,  Kids in mobile devices could never play on any of of 34 public parks with their friends. Tanbark divided people and screamed out that they were “different,  in the one place that is supposed to encourage unity and togetherness.

That’s when it became clear to me that “It all starts on the playground.”

As Magical Bridge was preparing to break ground, another moment ingrained itself in my memory. At a town hall meeting to discuss the building of the playground an elderly lady was very adamant about questioning why Palo Alto needed a playground designed for kids of all abilities. I do not think she asked this to be mean or from a place of bad intentions, I think she genuinely did not understand why inclusion was important. That was the first time it really hit me that people still don’t understand the importance of inclusion, and how important it is for kids to be exposed to the concept of inclusion from the time they are young. The perfect place for this important life lesson of course is a playground.

Magical Bridge playground exists because all people, races, genders, all levels of abilities — deserve a place to laugh and play and have fun. To me, that is a right every member of a community around the world has earned.

Today, as I see the fully developed playground, and the smiling faces, and people from all walks of lives coming together, it is clear everybody deserves a chance to feel welcomed and valued and loved, and when a community can rally the strength and leadership to accomplish that, and bridge a divide with something as beautiful as a Magical Bridge playground- well that is nothing short of magic.

— Annabelle Macrae is now 19 years old and currently a Freshman at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.