Spanning three acres, Field of Dreams in Toms River is so much more than a playground. It’s an inclusive, one-of-a-kind destination for families and children to play together, no matter their abilities or challenges. Every detail of the recreation park—made possible in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health—is designed with accessibility in mind. From a beautiful baseball field to the basketball court to the 9-hole mini-golf course and spectacular playground area specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs and adaptive equipment, it’s all made so that every child can experience the joy of play. But this is more than just another park—it’s a dream come true for Mary Kistler-Kane, an NJMOM on a mission for her son, Gavin. Read on how a community and partnership with RWJBarnabas Health made Field of Dreams a reality.
RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams is a dream come true for the Kane family
“There’s a movie called Field of Dreams. A line in the movie says, ‘is this heaven? This must be heaven.’ I know this is Toms River. But to me, this is heaven,” said a tearful Mary Kistler-Kane during the facility’s much-anticipated grand opening. Mary’s 11-year-old son Gavin was the driving force for her and her husband, Christian, to make the project a reality. But it was the community support that brought it to the finish line. “In March 2016, my son Connor met Gavin in pre-K. It was six months into their friendship before I realized anything was other than typical with Gavin,” says Michelle Minelli, a family friend who has supported the Kane family throughout this journey. “Connor had come home from school one day with a green ribbon on his backpack and told us the story behind the green ribbon. And it was that his friend Gavin had a boo-boo on his brain. And so, the story evolved, and we learned that Gavin had been in a car accident and he had a traumatic brain injury.” As the bond between the boys grew, so did the friendship between the two families, and Michelle and her family got involved in raising money and support for Field of Dreams. “Watching this family and seeing life through their eyes it’s incredible. They’re incredible people, and they truly want to make you be better,” says Michelle.
Gavin Kane enjoys one of the accessible swings at Field of Dreams
A place for ALL children to play
As a mom constantly considering Gavin’s healthcare challenges, Mary knows the feelings of frustration and disappointment when going to a playground or attraction with Gavin. A family outing often proved too challenging if there was no appropriate place to change him or became a let-down when he couldn’t access something fun that his siblings or friends could. The Kanes’ goal behind Field of Dreams was to make an entire day of family fun here— for everyone, regardless of their ability.
That was especially true on one of their first visits to test out the newly-opened equipment. “My daughter Scarlett and their cousin Ali are completely mobile. They went down the roller slide. Gavin was in his wheelchair. They were laughing, and he was watching. He said, ‘me.’ I thought, wait a minute, I can go all around, and all the ramps go up to the top. And I wheeled him all the way up to the roller slide, and he went on it and went down. And that is why this place is heaven,” says Mary.
The Field of Dreams facility includes a walking path with rehabilitative stations, a quiet corner for kids who need a sensory break, bathrooms with multiple electric changing stations to fully accommodate the special needs community, a temperature-controlled pavilion, strategically placed outlets that serve as wheel-chair recharging stations, and other thoughtful touches bringing joy to every corner of the complex. “What Field of Dreams means is that children with special healthcare needs will have the opportunity to play, socialize, integrate, and have some fun, just as any typically developing child would,” says Dr. Matthew McDonald, CEO of Children’s Specialized Hospital, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.
Field of Dreams is for the families as much as for the kids
The beauty of the playground is that it not only helps the kids, but parents are finding it’s a place to connect with others who understand. “I know that this park, as much as its purpose is for the children to come together and play together, it’s for the grownups and caregivers too. Mary can now walk with Gav on the walking path and chat with another mom who’s going through the same things,” says Michelle.
And the inclusion is what’s making families with all types of kids feel they’re on common ground. “Everyone loves coming here. In some ways, I feel like this was our destiny,” says Mary. “It’s where Connor and Gavin can play together,” Michelle adds. Both moms encourage families, no matter their child’s abilities, to come and experience all that Field of Dreams offers, including the perspective of another family’s journey. It’s where friendships are made, and both Mary and Michelle are hoping Field of Dreams will strike up many, just like what Gavin and Connor have found.
You can visit RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams at 1505 N Bay Ave in Toms River, and for more information as well as upcoming events, check out the website, and be sure to watch our video about Field of Dreams on YouTube.