With the opening of a new fully accessible playground earlier this year at the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC), Texas, Wounded Warriors and their families now have a safe place to play outside together.
The WFSC, which was funded and built by Returning Heroes Home in 2009, provides coordinated services to patients, next-of-kin and extended family members with a primary focus on wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom warriors.
Wounded Warriors and their family members visit the WFSC to maintain contact with other military members or extended family members, to receive emotional support and answers to their questions, and to extend their rehabilitation away from the hospital. The rehabilitation involved learning to cope with war-related disabilities as individuals, as couples and as families. The facility provides a friendly, comfortable environment in which to take a break, watch a movie on big-screen TVs, play video games, check e-mail or use the Internet, select a book or magazine to read, make a phone call or just grab a cup of coffee.
“Just as there was a need for the WFSC, there was a need for this playground – no question about it,” says Judith Markelz, Director of the WFSC. “Many of our Wounded Warriors have families and children, and you have to remember that the children are the unwitting victims of war. They didn’t sign on the line, they didn’t ask daddy to go and they didn’t get asked. They don’t participate in the war, but they do suffer all of the consequences of being a family member of an amputee or burn victim. Children should be playing, and not worrying about a thing, and this playground is as good as it gets. Anyplace where we can get them outside and playing is a wonderful thing.”
Funded and donated by USAA Insurance, the playground features play equipment from Little Tikes Commercial, including a bouldering area and mini climbing wall, with artwork – butterflies – throughout, which “symbolize hope,” notes Markelz. A new gazebo is also nearby, providing shade and the perfect place for picnics, barbeques and events.
“There are children there all the time – in the morning, afternoon and evening, on weekends,” says Markelz. “And they are there with their parents, and that was our whole point – to help our young men and women reintegrate into society.”
According to Markelz, feedback from parents has been overwhelming.
“They always say is it one of the best things we have done,” she points out. “Not only for the children but for the parents as well. You have to remember that every wife here who has two children will now say they have three because the warrior requires, initially, so much help. And they can only do so much. So, anything that we can do to alleviate the stress on the family – on the moms and the wives – is vitally important. And the playground certainly has helped to alleviate some of that stress.”
Markelz adds that an important part of the recovery for wounded warriors is having their families with them throughout the process, which is why the WFSC as well as they Fisher houses and other guesthouses at Fort Sam Houston are so necessary.
“There are all kinds of studies that show, whether it is wounded warriors or just civilians, we heal more quickly with the support of family and friends,” she points out. “I don’t care what hospital or care facility that you are in, everyone needs an advocate and support. Their lives have been changed forever. For the Wounded Warriors, their families help them adjust to what the new normal means.”
The new playground provides wounded warriors and their family members with another way to get back to the life that they used to have.
“In the real world, there are playgrounds everywhere, but there aren’t here,” notes Markelz. “But now we have a playground, and the Fisher House has one. Children should be playing and not worrying; it is their right to play. This playground provides a place to go for families, and for a moment in time, it is the way it used to be.”
Courtesy of GRF (Government Recreation and Fitness Magazine) July 2012 Issue
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