Spring / Summer 2023 Newsletter

Play for All Sensory Garden & Playground

For as long as the Play for All Sensory Garden and Playground has been providing a great place for children to play and have fun, the Wheaton Rotary Club A.M. has been helping to make this community amenity a reality. 

Karl Berland, a longtime member of the club and a current member of the Play for All Foundation board, remembers how, about a decade ago, the seeds for this vision were planted. 

“So about 12 years ago, the Wheaton Kiwanis Club came to the Wheaton Park District and said, ‘You should have a playground for children of all abilities, autistic children,’ ” Berland said. 

Since then, the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association and Forest Preserve District of Dupage County joined the efforts. From there, local service clubs got involved, including the Wheaton Rotary A.M. 

The late Will Grosch, a dedicated Rotary member, embraced fledgling plans to create a place where children of all abilities could play together, Berland said. 

“Will decided this is something we could really sink our teeth into. We could really have an impact here,” said Berland. “Will was a unique individual who highly valued involvement with the local community.” 

Backed by his fellow Rotarians, Will led efforts to raise funds for the playground. “We made a five-year, $25,000 pledge to help with capital projects at the park,” said Berland. “Our club has been happy to make a second renewal of our pledge and has been delighted with the development of the park and how much use it gets every day.” 

Unfortunately, Will passed away in 2019. Berland has carried Will’s vision forward, directing the club’s efforts at continued financial and moral support for the project for the past four years. Beginning with sensory gardens, art displays and a sound garden where children can explore their senses, the Sensory Garden and Playground has continued to grow. 

Berland said the garden features planting boxes for visitors. “It’s to give them the experience of growing plants in the summertime. It helps them develop responsibility, to water plants and see them grow,” he said. “The mission is to provide a safe, accessible, healthy place for children of all abilities to plan and enjoy being outdoors in this wonderful environment,” he said. “We try to make it an event place. Throughout the summer we host play days with special themes, every month.” 

The playground has added an accessible treehouse and other accommodations for children of all abilities. In the summer of 2022, a gravity rail ride and a net climber, both featuring adaptive equipment, were installed. “We’ve been blessed with matching grants,” said Berland. 

Future plans call for the installation of playground equipment appropriate for older children, in the 5 to 12-year-old category. Berland said fundraising efforts are proceeding. “We’re targeting about $500,000 in commitments. We’re getting close.” 

A retired sales manager for Siemens, Berland currently works as a part-time driving instructor for Top Driver in Wheaton. Many of his clients are Wheaton high school students. 

Berland and his wife live in Wheaton and have two daughters and four grandchildren. The youngest, Harrison, is 8. 

Berland said he has been taking Harrison to the Sensory Garden for the past four years. 

“He’s my tester. He lets me know what he likes about the playground. He was a little four year old when we started out,” he said. “I’m really a big fan of kids playing. Playing is the best way of learning. I’m very sensitive to special needs children, of them being able to express themselves. All kids need to understand that not everybody is the same. Play for All is a great place to experience that. Autism, in particular, is one of the things we have to focus on. They do need special places to play and grow and develop.” 

Berland said the Wheaton Rotary Club A.M. raises funds through two major fundraising events each year: the sale of poinsettia plants, grown at Cantigny Park, each Christmas holiday season and co-sponsoring the annual spring Fun Run, which is called the Superhero Fun Run this year for the first time. Participants are encouraged to dress as their favorite superhero for the 5K race through downtown Wheaton in April. 

“We’re really excited about what that’s going to look like,” he said. A portion of funds raised by both events is donated to Play for All Sensory Garden and Playground, a commitment that Berland said will continue. “The long-term relationship that the playground has with the Rotary Club is important to maintain,” he said. 

Children dressed as superheroes
SuperHero 5k Fun Run 2023 event
Karl Berland's grandson standing on top of a plastic horse at the Sensory Garden Playground

“Playing is the best way of learning.” -Karl Berland
Pictured above: Harrison O’Conner, Karl Berland’s grandson


The Play For All Playground & Garden Foundation’s mission is to create barrier-free and universally accessible outdoor play spaces and gardens in DuPage County. Through the cognitive, social, and physical values of play, the Foundation promotes a spirit of inclusion and enhances quality of life, as well as supports involvement in recreation and wellness activities for all people and abilities. 

Without boundaries. Without limits. Play for all.

Boy on top of playground area

Installation of New Attractions & Donations Top List of 2022 Goals Met

The Sensory Garden and Playground successfully attained several goals in 2022. 

Designed to be accessible to all children, the park features playground equipment that is easy to use and enjoy and has special accommodations that allow for universal appeal. 

New attractions added to the Sensory Garden and Playground in 2022 made the park an even more inviting destination. 

Also in 2022, the Sensory Garden and Playground Foundation was the recipient of several donations that help with the park’s operations and with the ability to continue to improve and expand the offerings for the area’s children. 

The year also saw four successful Play Days scheduled for Saturdays throughout the summer, when children gathered to play and share in special activities. 

This past year, a playground amenity known as a GT Wave net climber was installed with a transfer platform, a slide and a special accessible climbing route. 

This popular new attraction was made possible by a grant awarded through the JCS Arts, Health and Education Fund of the DuPage Foundation. 

Children who visited this past summer also encountered the Gravity Rail for the first time. Riders sit a few feet off the ground in swing-style seats and zip through the air on a track. The Gravity Rail was made possible by a donation from Kim Ulfig and was added to the playground area near the large, ramped treehouse. 

Children and their parents and guardians enjoyed a total of four Play Days in 2022. The Saturday events gave participants a chance to share in fun activities with peers. 

The Sensory Garden also benefitted from a $1,500 donation from the Wheaton Lions Club, a contribution that allowed for the purchase of planters filled with plant life that aids with sensory experiences and education. 

We were grateful to meet a donor’s $55,000 match goal in 2022, allowing us the opportunity to continue with our plans for the park. 

The current playground equipment is appropriate for toddlers and young children. Future plans call for the installation of playground equipment geared for older children, in the 5 to 12-year-old category, the project that we will continue to fundraise for in 2023. 

Lions Club International logo

We appreciate our donors’ and volunteers’ support and encouragement, both essential to the realization of our 2022 goals. We hope to continue on this path in 2023.

2 horses on springs with a barn themed slide

5 to 12-Year-Old Playground Update

Plans for the new 5 to 12-Year-Old Playground are shaping up but we still need your help! The new equipment is intended to appeal to children older than the original playground equipment, which is geared toward children ages 2 to 5. 

Donations continue to help us approach our goals. This calendar year, we have a $50,000 match from one of our generous donors. So your donations will be matched, dollar-for-dollar. 

We thank all of our supporters for helping to make this dream a reality. 

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Mark your calendar for Summer Play Days

May 20 | June 17 | July 15 | August 19
$5 suggested donation per family

Sometimes, the only thing more fun than climbing up into a treehouse or letting the sweet scents of spring and summer tickle your nose is to do those things with a few buddies. 

That’s why the Play for All Sensory Garden and Playground presents four opportunities for kids to congregate and enjoy the season together each summer. 

Summer Play Days are days when the park presents informal group activities during a loosely structured play time. Kids can play games, win giveaways, and indulge in fun activities. 

Each of the four days will be presented with a theme such as “dinosaurs” or “fairies.” They will be held on the third Saturday of May, June, July and August from 10A-12P, weather permitting. 

For more details, please visit playforalldupage.org/events. 

Proud Partner of the Sensory Garden Playground

Park address: 2751 Navistar Dr. | Lisle, IL 60532
Mailing address: 855 W. Prairie Ave. | Wheaton, IL 60187
playforalldupage.org | /sensorygardenplayground

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