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Road trip to raise Wheel-A-Thon funds

TAMPA — For six years, Stefani Busansky and her daughter Sarah raised money for Tampa's inclusive playgrounds by wheeling through MacFarlane Park.

This year they're taking the show on the road.

The annual Wheel-A-Thon will be replaced with a 1,990-mile road trip to St. Paul, Minn., where Sarah will undergo an evaluation at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare Hospital.

The hospital is well-known for its expertise in cerebral palsy, which Sarah was diagnosed with at age 2.

Fortunately for Sarah, the hospital, normally slammed with patients, was able to see her on Sept. 27.

Unfortunately, that date conflicted with the peak planning time for the Wheel-A-Thon.

"I debated back and forth and I originally thought we'd cancel it," said Busansky, 43.

But what about the hundreds who look forward to the yearly event? And what about LaVoy Exceptional Center, which is slated for the next Freedom Playground project?

Busansky's Freedom Playground Foundation had planned to use proceeds from its annual Wheel-A-Thon for a 6,100-square-feet inclusive playground at LaVoy, 4410 W Main St. in Tampa.

Once complete, the playground would be a sensory play environment, with a sand and water play area, a musical instrument garden and an elevated deck seating area for an outdoor classroom. Children with disabilities could play right alongside other kids.

The goal is to raise $50,000 for the project, $23,000 of which has been raised, including corporate sponsorships, Busansky said.

Sarah, now 11, didn't want people to be disappointed.

A sixth-grader at Woodrow Wilson Middle, she suggested they take a road trip to Minnesota and use their travel experiences to drum up support for the playground.

They could also use it as an educational tool.

"The point is to have fun with it but also create awareness," said Busansky, who lives in South Tampa's New Suburb Beautiful neighborhood.

The family had their van wrapped in brightly colored images of children playing, including one in a wheelchair. They will make stops at hotels, restaurants, attractions and recreational areas to tell people along the way about accessibility — the good and the bad.

"But not in a way that would make them feel bad," Sarah said. "We're just being helpful."

Attractions with good accessibility will receive a "roll model" vote. Those that are lacking will get a "bad biscuit" vote. Busansky created the rating system herself. The ratings will be posted on the Freedom Playground Foundation's Facebook page.

She and Sarah will be joined on the road by 6-year-old sister Claire. Husband Ed will stay behind. Supporters back home will be able to keep up with the Busansky clan through Facebook and Twitter updates.

The family plans to leave Sept. 13. At the top of Sarah's list: the Wisconsin Dells, home to the country's largest outdoor water park.

Their other stops include Rish Park in the Florida panhandle, Nashville's Parthenon and Chicago's Millennium Park.

Back home supporters will continue to raise money for the LaVoy project. A pancake breakfast on Saturday will serve as the kickoff.

Busansky spearheaded creation of the Freedom Playground Foundation in 2004.

"I had this sense there needed to be inclusion in the community, not so much a special place but a place with universal design," Busansky said. "We're creating places where all ages and all abilities can play and feel included."

In 2008, Freedom Playground, opened at MacFarlane Park on N MacDill Avenue. Another boundless playground opened at Grady Elementary later that year.

Taking the Wheel-A-Thon on the road has brought some perks.

A week ago Patty Lipkin set up a fundraising Web page for Freedom Playground Foundation and has already raised $550.

"My contact list is all over the country, so they don't have to be in Tampa to give to this event," said Lipkin, who volunteers with Freedom Playground. "It's a lot of pluses to this on-the-road thing."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Fast facts

Wheel-A-Thon Road Trip 2010 Kick-Off Party

Comedian Ron Johnson will entertain and the Pancake Man of Tampa Bay will be on hand with all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage. Gourmet coffee drinks will be served. From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Barksdale Senior Center, 1801 N Lincoln Ave. in Tampa. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for kids; includes T-shirt and fundraising packet. Register at firstgiving.com/freedomplayground or

e-mail stefani@freedom

playground.org.

Road trip to raise Wheel-A-Thon funds 09/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 4:29pm]
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