JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Just days before Christmas, staff at an after-school program made a shocking discovery. They say expensive playground equipment for children with special needs was stolen.
DLC Therapy & Care Executive Director Amy Buggle said staff noticed two therapeutic swings and a double slide that are used at the Blanding Boulevard location were missing on December 12th. They thought the repairmen they had called to fix another piece of equipment had taken them to make repairs. This week they were shocked to learn that was not the case.
"He said 'I'm sorry the Grinch must be alive and must be in Jacksonville because someone else had to have taken your equipment. It wasn't us,'" said Buggle. "When we realized it really was gone, I just couldn't believe it. I guess rather than get angry, in light of all the things that have been going on in this country lately, it's just things and they can be replaced."
Buggle said the double slide and two swings would cost more than $3,000 to replace and right now, the nonprofit doesn't have the money to buy more equipment.
Teacher Ethan Wellhausen works at the other DLC location where there is another therapeutic playground.
"Slides and swings are really important to a lot of the children here because a lot of them can't walk around so being able to fluctuate in a swing and run back and forth, it gives them the momentum of moving rather than being in a wheelchair," said Wellhausen.
For the 25 kids ages three to high school with special needs and disabilities who use the playground, the theft means they won't be able to do their outdoor therapy on the equipment.
"It's devastating. Now they are stuck sitting in a room, not that they don't get great care, but that's their luxury. That's their leisure time," said parent Charlene Ennis.
She said the swings mean everything to her eight-year-old son.
"That really is his therapy. He's autistic and finds that very soothing to him so for somebody to do something so mean and especially around this time of the year and especially these kids. These items are donated from the community and the church and people go out of their way to supply this equipment for these children. It's very heartless for somebody to do something like that," said Ennis.
The executive director of the after-school program is hoping the stolen playground equipment is returned before the children return from Christmas break.
First Coast News