As a mother of my own special needs children, I ugly cried when I heard about a father who designed a theme park for his special needs daughter.
It’s called Morgan’s Wonderland.
Gordon Hartman, of San Antonio, Tex., dreamed of a unique place his daughter could play and make friends uninhibited. The idea came to him back in 2005 after he witnessed his daughter struggle to make friends in a pool while on family vacation.
She was 12.
Morgan Hartman, now 23, is on the autism spectrum and is cognitively delayed.
The making of a dream
After returning from their family vacation, Hartman got right to work.
At 53-years-old, he sold his home building business and founded The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation.
Construction began on Morgan’s Wonderland in 2007. He had countless meetings with occupational therapists, doctors, architects, engineers and special needs families while designing the $35 million theme park.
“At the heart of it, it’s about not allowing anyone feel left out or different,” Hartman said. “That’s what I hope this park tells special needs kids and adults.”
Amenities at Morgan’s Wonderland expanded this summer with the addition of a $17 million water park called Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
Both parks are specially designed to be fully accessible to all disabilities Hartman said.
Shortly after the theme park opened, Gordon had another epiphany.
His daughter was growing up.
Soon she would be considered an adult.
It was then that he decided to fill a third of the staff jobs with adults who have special needs and disabilities he said.
“It just makes it more warm and inviting,” Hartman said, “and it teaches them life skills while allowing them some independence.”
This gives me all the feels.
But there’s more.
Free admission, extra touches
Hartman created special wristbands for parkgoers; they track the whereabouts of the guests electronically so caretakers can enjoy the parks and amenities with their loved ones.
And admission is free for all persons with mental or physical disabilities.
The park operates at nearly a $1 million loss every year. They depend on crowd-sourcing and fundraisers.
“One way or another, we will remain open,” Hartman said. “Too many families have come up to me and told me what a blessing this place has been.
“I can’t bear the thought of taking it away because of money.”
Morgan is doing well, he said. The theme park has helped her grow and develop, and that makes everything worth it.
Fan favorites at Morgan’s Wonderland include the fully accessible Ferris Wheel, the locomotive train and the explorer jeeps.
Watch: Dad builds theme park for daughter with special needs
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