Redefining Play: Introducing Magical Bridge Foundation

Magical Bridge Foundation brings to life truly innovative and inclusive playgrounds for everyone, including the 1 in 5 of us living with a visible or invisible disability.  We believe everyone should feel the MAGIC of play, including children and adults with disabilities and special needs, those from economically challenged homes or underfunded schools, and those who long for a secure spot to feel the freedom of swinging, sliding, spinning, and finding new friends. This is the spirited mission of Magical Bridge Foundation. For additional information about Magical Bridge Foundation, kindly visit our FAQ.

Magical Bridge Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. EIN: 81-2377796

Magical Bridge Foundation’s Current Projects

Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto opened to the public in April 2015 and is heralded as the nation’s most innovative-inclusive playground. Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City broke ground in November 2017 and is expected to open to the public in early 2019. Magical Bridge Playground in Sunnyvale was announced in July 2017 and is currently raising funds for the project, with an expected opening in 2020. Magical Bridge Playground in Morgan Hill was announced in August 2017 and is currently raising funds for the project, with an expected opening in 2020. The Magical Bridge Playground in Mountain View was announced in January 2018 and is raising funds for the project, with an expected opening in 2020. Several other Bay Area and national projects will be announced throughout the coming year.

Founder and Visionary, Olenka Villarreal with her younger daughter, Ava, who is the inspiration for Magical Bridge Playground.  It was only after the birth of Ava that Olenka discovered how isolating a playground could be.  A place which brought joy and community connections with her older daughter had become a dreaded outing when she realized there were no parks designed for families like her own;  a family who had two children with very different needs.

Magical Bridge started with a mom, two daughters and a playground need

The vision for Magical Bridge began over 10 years ago when Olenka Villarreal discovered her younger daughter, Ava, had significant developmental challenges and disabilities. She learned that vestibular movement, such as swinging, would benefit Ava, but her limited upper body strength made holding the swing chains at a typical playground impossible. Therapists encouraged Olenka to drive 45 minutes away and pay $150/hour to swing her daughter at the one and only occupational therapy clinic that offered “bucket swings”. Olenka was dismayed that her hometown of Palo Alto could not provide the most basic aspects of play for her daughter.

Olenka was frustrated that the suggested therapies were expensive and hard to access, especially as the recommended treatment did not require special training, only a swing that would fit her daughter. Then came the ah-ha moment: Shouldn’t she be able to swing her daughter at the local park?

She quickly found that no public parks in the area offered bucket swings that would suit Ava’s needs. Olenka also thought of her other daughter who was developmentally typical. Where could her daughters play together? Through extensive research, she was amazed to discover that there were no parks near her that were truly accessible and welcoming for both of her daughters. Olenka learned that over 20% of California residents live with either visible or invisible disabilities, and one that any of us can become a member of at any time, yet, playgrounds weren’t designed to meet the unique play needs of people with disabilities.

Olenka set out on a journey to build a new kind of community playground, one that met the needs of everyone, regardless of what body they were born into, so that everyone could come out and play – together. Gathering a group of volunteers and Silicon Valley innovators, designers and savvy fundraisers, Magical Bridge Playground was born. The playground in Palo Alto opened in 2015. Almost immediately, the overwhelming interest from communities throughout California inspired Olenka and her co-founder Jill Asher to create Magical Bridge Foundation as a non-profit organization in 2016.  Since then, the success of the playground has inspired an awareness that today’s parks leave far too many behind.  In response, Santa Clara County allocated $10 million of funds to create more playground like Magical Bridge.  New school play solutions are underway as well.

The foundation is beginning to extend its reach beyond the Bay Area and continues to bring the joy of play, kindness and new friendships to as many families as possible.