Regis College alumni turn dream of building an oasis for children of all abilities into reality

Many things can be considered an oasis – a freshly pruned garden, a good book and a cup of coffee, or even skiing through fresh powder. In the case of Amanda and Shawn Bakker – both Regis College alumni – it is a place where their daughter, Tatum can safely play, explore and just be a kid.

Tatum was born in 2010 with spina bifida, a condition affecting the spinal cord and nervous system. It can cause a range of physical disabilities.

Amanda, who graduated in 1999, and Shawn, who graduated in 2000, said they did not think such an oasis was a reality until they stumbled upon a fully inclusive and accessible playground in Idaho during a family road trip.

“It was like seeing a path laid before us,” Amanda said.

It was that moment of inspiration that led them to their new dream: creating Tatum’s Garden, a playground in their hometown of Salinas, Calif., that can be used by children of all abilities and gaining the community’s support to make it a reality.

The Bakkers say the project isn’t just about their daughter. It’s about serving a whole population of special needs children who shouldn’t have to travel to another town, or even hundreds of miles to find a playground they can access.

“If we can be the one example that serves a multitude of people, that’s what this project is about,” Amanda said.

The Bakkers say the skills they took from their Regis education helped them in their effort, including as they worked to mobilize the community around the project. The community has been vital in moving the project from concept to reality, they said. Volunteers donated funds (the project now stands at more than 70 percent of its $1 million goal), helped design the project and in September 2013 came together to build the playground and create a unique experience for the children of Monterey County.

“Serving the greater good brings the best out of people,” Amanda said. “And bringing the best out of others builds community.”

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