DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Bailey Hamrick and Alex Willard hit the swings Thursday at Sparger Park in Colleyville. Alex pushed, and Bailey enjoyed the ride. The latter, laughed.
It was the highest she’d ever gone, and the longest period of time. For the first time, the two friends were both on the playground playing, just like all the other kids.
It was the result of a friend, doing whatever she had to do for a friend. Alex maybe didn’t expect to start her summer tackling public speaking and interaction with municipal government. When it comes to ensuring quality time on the playground with friends though, a 10-year-old has to do what a 10-year-old has to do.
To understand Alex, it helps to hear how she first met Bailey, who is 15. It was August. The Hamricks had just moved in to a house in Bedford. Alex lived two doors down.
“Out of the blue she rings the door bell, and says she wants to introduce herself,” Rhonda Hamrick said with a laugh. “And she’s nine at the time.”
The age difference is a bit unusual. The other differences, were what usually kept kids from actively coming over the way Alex did.
Alex is headed to 5th grade next year. She plays soccer. Her long pony tail bounces around as she runs with the endless energy kids still have at that age.
Bailey is in school too. She was born premature. She has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and doesn’t get too far without her wheelchair. She is non-verbal and for most parts of everyday living, she relies on family.
What would intimidate many kids about Bailey, however, attracted Alex. She had been around kids with differences before, she told me, when she lived in Alaska. She didn’t like how other kids looked at them.
She recalled the time she wanted one of her friends to sit with her, and a handicapped student at lunch. The other girl said she didn’t hang out with those kids.
“It was really sad that I heard that,” she said. “Nothing’s wrong with them, they were just made different than us.”
From that first meeting, whenever Alex saw the family car pull into the driveway, she was there too. She would play at the house, and go on walks with Bailey, and a woman who stays with her some afternoons.
When those walks ended at the park, it was an awkward dance of trying to lift Bailey out of her chair, into the lap of her caretaker who was in a swing. She’d struggle to move, while holding the teenager. It just didn’t work.
They could drive to another city, with a handicapped swing, but that didn’t seem right to Alex.
“It kind of bothered me and upset me, because seeing all the other kids be able to play, and Bailey not be able to.”
Maybe the city could do something, her mom told her. Maybe she could write a letter.
So Alex sat down and wrote about her friend; about the smile during walks; about the handicap accessible swing that could make her smile at the end of the walk. Her mother helped clean it up a bit. Then they sent it off to city hall, and waited.
City manager Jennifer Fadden was the first to open the letter and read it.
“Soon as I read through it and saw that Alexandria, 10-year-old child, wrote the letter to me, it immediately pulled at my heartstrings and told me this is something special that we really need to take a close look at,” Fadden said.
She sent it to park staff, to see what the city could do.
Meanwhile, Alex hadn’t heard anything. She had already decided, the letter wasn’t enough. She was going to city hall, to push on in person.
Even for this focused 10-year-old, walking into that council chamber, took some guts.
“I was like, whoa, this is big,” she remembered.
She waited for the citizen comment meeting, then got up, and nervously read her request for a swing in person. She had handouts for the council. Most adults don’t bring handouts. She had even researched the cost; less than $800 per park.
The city ordered the swing. Just like that.
It’s important, Fadden said, for kids to know government can help.
“Most importantly,” said Alex, “I’ve made my best friends dream come true, and that’s what matters to me.”
Colleyville doesn’t want the idea to end there. As more parks needs repairs and upgrades, it will look at adding more accessible equipment.
The only problem now, said Bailey’s father, David, may be getting his daughter to ever want to leave the park.
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