Nov 9 - Dec 31, 2017

SPOTLIGHT: Tatum’s Garden

Growing Grounds
Tatum’s Garden Foundation built the area’s first playground for kids with disabilities, and plans another.

By Ivan Garcia

A pair of toddlers swing as an adult pushes them, a hesitant boy reaches for a low hanging monkey bar while a young woman roots him on, and a middle-aged man holding a girl in his arms plays a tune on a xylophone with his free hand. It’s a Tuesday afternoon at Tatum’s Garden, a playground in Salinas’ Sherwood Park, and all feels right.

But 7-year-old Tatum Bakker, who the park is named for, sees something out of place. Bakker rolls her wheelchair away from her mother and over to a box that serves as a lending library, with a children’s encyclopedia and fairy tales in Spanish.

“Oh no!” Bakker says. “They left the door open!”

She shuts the little library door then rolls onto the recycled-rubber floor of the playground, where she disappears with two friends into a playhouse.

“She wants to be on her own more, without me hovering,” says Amanda Bakker, president of Tatum’s Garden Foundation (and Tatum’s mom). “She can be independent in a place like this.”

Tatum was born with spina bifida, leaving little sensation in her legs. After getting her first wheelchair as a toddler, she wanted to join her two older siblings at playgrounds but was usually restricted to waiting at the edge.

The Bakker family stumbled upon a fully-accessible playground in rural Idaho on a road trip.

“We saw kids in wheelchairs and walkers playing alongside able-bodied kids,” Amanda says. “I didn’t know places like that existed. I told my husband we had to build one here.”

In 2013, they formed the foundation and linked up with playground design company Leathers & Associates. They raised $1.6 million within six months.

Tatum’s Garden opened in December 2013. It was made possible with the labor of some 3,000 volunteers, many of whom continue to maintain the park.

For its Big Idea, the foundation is seeking $2 million in funding for its next venture. Tatum’s Treehouse, a second playground, is set to be built at the Quail Meadows playground in Toro Park. The 30,000-plus-square-foot playground will boast inclusive structures (like those at the Salinas playground) including therapeutic swings and a four-seater seesaw.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for families with special needs to enjoy the outdoors,” Amanda says. “What I love about the new location is that it’s surrounded by oaks and hills. It opens the natural world that was hard to access before.”