BRUNSWICK, Ohio — You’ve heard the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” even if you’re just seven years old.
Behind each cup, each smile and occasional friendly “boo” scare, is Gwen Ciccozzi’s story of survival.
“Gwen actually is a stroke survivor. She had a perinatal stroke. That means she had a stroke before she was even born,” said Gwen’s mother, Rebecca Ciccozzi. “We didn’t know if she would walk or talk or even be able to understand what other people were saying.”
Due to her health condition and once bound to a wheelchair, it was never easy for Gwen to just be a kid and be free at her favorite place, the playground.
“Playgrounds were very and sometimes still are very difficult. Traditional playgrounds with wood chips and climbers are just something that Gwen really struggled with,” her mom explained.
So, Gwen and her family pick up and drive out of city limits to go to the closest inclusive playground, which is Mrs. Ciccozzi says is “about 20 minutes from here, which is a 40-minute round trip.”
The trips are sometimes heartbreaking because as Mrs. Ciccozzi explains, Gwen just wants to play. Her former teacher, Leann Alerio who is a Special Education Coordinator for Brunswick City Schools, says feeling like you don’t fit in can be detrimental to a child’s social, emotional and mental development.
“I have met some kids who have really impacted me and changed my life and when you get to work that closely with them you want to do anything you can to level that playing field,” Alferio said. “They walk differently, they may communicate differently, they may behave differently but on the inside they’re kids, they want to make friends and they want to play.”
Back in November, Alferio went to the city and proposed the city build its first inclusive playground where Neura Park is currently located.
“We attempted to try it at one school building and the size of the project was just too large for one building to take on.”
Still, with unanimous approval from the city, the cost has held things up. The project costs at least $350,000 due to the size of the layout.
“A standard small playground would probably cost the city about $40,000,” said Carl DeForest, Brunswick City Manager. “People from surrounding communities, people from communities in other counties would be encouraged to come and have fun this playground.”
While the city works on getting approved for grants and large-scale fundraisers, Gwen is taking matters into her own hands by turning her lemons into lemonade for her community through her very own lemonade stand called “Gwennie Penny’s Lemonade.” She’s giving back every dollar raised to go towards the playground she’s always wanted.
If all goes well the city hopes to have the playground completed by March 2022.