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New foundation in Islip Town plans park for people with special needs

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter and Department of

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter and Department of Parks Commissioner Tom Owens at Brookwood Hall in East Islip, the proposed site of a park within a park for people with special needs.  Credit: Yellow House Images / Andrew Theodorakis

A first-of-its-kind park designed for special-needs' groups in Islip Town is just a concept now but the people behind the idea can see it.

The proposed one-acre park within a park will cater to people who are visually or hearing impaired, are on the autism spectrum or have Alzheimer’s disease, officials said. And although it’s just an idea, the park has a desired location, Brookwood Hall in East Islip. It also has a name — “Serenity Gardens.”

For about a year, volunteers with the newly launched nonprofit, The Parks Foundation of Islip Town Inc., brainstormed how to enhance Islip’s parks through donations and without dipping into the town’s coffers.

“We came together to try and raise money to do things that you would not, and could not, otherwise do in budgets any longer,” said Tom McAteer, a foundation board member. “Everybody fell in love with this idea as something we would love to do for this town. Serenity Gardens, our idea, is to be able to serve people in the community who are not always the central focus of parks’ development.”

Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who does not officially serve on the foundation, said she came up with the idea for a nonprofit catering to town parks about two years ago. She began talking to people who showed interest. According to state records, the foundation was registered as a nonprofit in May.

“Everybody loves their parks. Whatever we can do to promote, embellish and make them as great as they can be, we need to explore every option,” she said. “People are not likely to just write a check to a municipality. But they are willing to do it for a foundation.”

Serenity Gardens will boast features meant to heighten senses. These amenities include fragrant plants and flowers for multiple groups; a garden with a Braille system for the blind; a walking labyrinth made of stones for multiple groups and other sensory-walking materials such as mulch, tactile pads, rubber and gravel, where parkgoers can take off their shoes and experience the textures through touch, officials said.

The park’s autism space would include quieter areas because many with the disorder are sensitive to loud noises, officials said. The foundation has been meeting with experts who work with special-needs groups and architects, officials said.

Carpenter said the park could cost about $2 million. Officials have been in talks with potential sponsors for donations, she said.

She envisions a fenced-in park divided into four areas, with a gazebo in the center. Each space would be designated for a special-needs group. Carpenter said such a park would be a “safe space” for people with visual and hearing impairments, those on the autism spectrum and who have Alzheimer’s disease.

John King, the foundation’s board chairman and president of J. Kings Food Service, said he could see similar parks throughout Islip. Even though Serenity Gardens is most likely years away from reality, he wants to see a dozen others.

“It’s exciting. This is the first one, but we’d love to do one in Central Islip. We’d love to do one in Sayville,” he said.

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