If they build it, says Toms River family, kids with special needs will come
TOMS RIVER — "Oh, people will come ... People will most definitely come."
That line, spoken by James Earl Jones' character in the 1989 film "Field of Dreams," is now the hope of a family at the center of an effort to build a recreational complex for special needs children.
The project, in part based on a similar one out of Atlantic County, also bears the name of that classic baseball movie. But the Toms River Field of Dreams is about much more than baseball.
It is not a culmination, but rather a continuation of five years of hard work and dedication by parents of six, Christian and Mary Kane. In 2012, Christian's car was hit from behind by a truck, with son Gavin, then just 19 months old, in the back seat. Gavin suffered a traumatic brain injury and stroke in the crash. He still cannot walk or talk, but does communicate via tablet and undergoes weekly therapy.
Like every other 6-year-old, though, Gavin longs to be able to play outside with others, both with and without disabilities. And in their travels, Christian and Mary found that countless other parents who had children with special needs wanted the same for their kids.
So the concept of a totally accessible baseball park grew from there. With additional suggestions for a playground, miniature golf course, snack stand, and other amenities, the price tag ballooned from $250,000 to $2 million. But Christian said the township has been so supportive that the Field of Dreams is not really about baseball anymore. It's not even just about Toms River.
"The goal of the Field of Dreams is that anyone in Monmouth and Ocean County who has a special need, no matter what your age is, now has a place to go," he said.
Also part of that goal is bringing awareness and education to residents of both counties, showing just how many people in their communities have special needs and what those needs entail. To that end, Christian hopes to use his position as a teacher at Toms River High School North to bring on student volunteers to help at the complex.
The Field of Dreams also figures to be an effective network for parents to meet and compare notes and knowledge on schools, physicians, and therapists.
Of course, the planning has circled back to baseball on occasion, especially with the participation of newly-acquired Yankees third baseman and Toms River legend Todd Frazier. The Frazier family has been continuously generous with their time and resources, Christian said, and having Todd return to playing on the East Coast can only benefit the cause — though he tries not to disturb the slugger at work.
"Having Todd back is wonderful, and once the season's over, his willingness to help us out is going to be immense, especially for fundraising," Christian said.
As the project stands now, engineers are working on a plan for the parcel of land Toms River provided to the Kanes. Some $250,000 to $300,000 is still being sought, as are construction and concrete supply partners. Christian foresees the first phase of construction beginning late next winter, the second phase kicking into gear in the summer, and the facility opening in October or November 2018.
This November, they'll get a helping hand: the Toms River Elks #1875 will sponsor a gala event to benefit the Field of Dreams on Nov. 4.
To check in on the project's progress, visit tomsriverfieldofdreams.com.
Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email email@example.com.
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