In San Antonio, Texas a unique park has been created with the goal of uniting people young and old with the common element of play.
Inspired by a young girl with physical disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland creates an atmosphere where people can safely enjoy time with family and friends, regardless of any physical or mental disability.
This 25 acre park caters especially towards people with special needs and provides for guests a first-class area where people can relax and have fun.
Accommodating Every Person
Morgan’s Wonderland is an interactive and inclusive park where people with special needs and their family and friends can interact and enjoy all aspects of play. Traditionally, parks are designed and built, then accommodations are made for people with physical or mental limitations. Morgan’s Wonderland was not created this way: all obstacles were identified first, with its design following second. The entire park is accessible, safe, and fun for people of all ages.
This recreation area leads the way in providing inclusive, family orientated activities. In 2007, the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation created Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR) as a non-profit organization to raise money and provide administration for the park. Fundraising came from many sources, including the City of San Antonio, the State of Texas, family and friends, and various charities and corporations.
In just a few short years, Morgan’s Wonderland opened with the mission to “provide a safe, clean, beautiful environment free of economic barriers for special needs individuals of all ages.”
Features of Morgan’s Wonderland
The park has many attractions that can be enjoyed by every person:
an event area and gymnasium with basketball, volley ball, and tennis access
an interactive sensory area that includes a theater, horse stable, fix-it shop, grocery store, and a television station
accessible 1930s style train
accessible cars that travel a track throughout the park
8 acre lake with fishing access
accessible playgrounds and wheelchair/adaptive swings
water park area
various pavilions and rest areas
Morgan’s Wonderland is the first “ultra-accessible family fun park” of its kind in the world. Individuals with special needs are admitted with no cost, and other guests to the park are charged a nominal entrance fee.
Established in 1988 as a response to Oakland, California’s increasing rates of violence and crime and the corresponding decrease in accessible programs for youth, Destiny Arts Center seeks to “end isolation, prejudice and violence in the lives of young people.”
Youths often live with frustration and depression. Destiny Arts Center seeks to provide for them a safe environment designed for creative and positive expression.
Instilling in youths valuable feelings of safe worth and respect for others paves the way for a lifetime of positive participation at school and within the community, and inspires every child to achieve greatness.
The martial arts and performing arts programs serve as a proven violence prevention strategy for the center’s youths aged three years old to 18 by reinforcing positive and nonviolent behavior in the face of negativity.
Destiny Arts Center seeks to establish in youth the alternatives to provoking or reacting to violence. Through the programs staffed with positive and genuine instructors, the kids learn respect for themselves and for others, effective violence prevention strategies, and positive conflict resolution skills.
Effects on the Community
The programs offered through the center run at the most essential times in kids’ days: after school, on weekends, and during the summer. This gives the youths an accessible forum to “explore, express and reshape daily challenges through physical, emotional and creative growth.”
The instructors and alumni of Destiny Arts Center have witnessed kids become vocal in the community at large about nonviolence. When kids feel safe and have valuable self esteem, their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical growth is dramatic and positive. When kids learn how to engage their authentic selves and connect with peers and culture in a positive manner, the effects last a lifetime.
The following is a transcription of kids and parents talking about the effects Destiny Arts Center has had on their loves.
Destiny Arts Center, Growing Peaceful Warriors
Danny Glover visits Destiny Arts Center
Emerald Mitchell: I come to Destiny because I love being a part of something that is just so profound. How many youth organizations are like us? You know, we dance. Some of us sing. Some of us rap. We act. We perform. But we do it for a reason. We include our own stories in our scripts, in our poems, you know, in our dances.
Any decision that I’m making that is a big decision—that will affect another human being, that will affect an animal, a plant, the environment, you know—we cover that stuff at Destiny. And so I’m doing something powerful, you know, and I’m affecting my community. So that’s why I hang out.
Matt Plut: Actually, it’s the philosophy of Destiny, really, that kind of sets it apart. Jake got fascinated kind of with the dancing and just the way they were teaching him, so we decided to start Destiny here on Saturdays. We live in San Francisco, so it’s a little hard for us to get over on the weekdays. But on weekends we’re here, on Saturday, and he does hip hop here and martial arts after hip hop.
Jake Plut: I used to sometimes get angry over stuff that I shouldn’t have. But now that I’ve joined Destiny, they’ve helped me with my life. I was in a competition. I managed to win two medals. I feel proud and it was a great experience for me.
Giana Cirolia: The five fingers of balance prevention and the seven steps of conflict resolution, they’re like the moment you start thinking about it, that’s like taking a breath and stepping back and just the idea of having that in the back of your mind gives you the chance to deescalate the situation.
Payomo Family (mother speaking): So, yes. I have four kids here between the ages of four and fifteen. The first few months I was really, really amazed with how it affected them in such a positive way. They were so excited to come. The energy and the self expression that you teach the kids and you allow them to have, it really gives them a lot of confidence and it also makes them want to share that.
What Does Destiny Mean?
Young Man: If I could describe Destiny in word word, I’ll say mind changing. Eye-opening.
Man: I feel like it’s not about anything but helping children grow to their full potential as human beings. That’s what i would say. Rooted in contribution.
Young Girl: Awesome.
Payomo family (young girl): Fun!
The Spirit of Destiny Arts Center
Javier Santos: Unlike other places, the real hard neighborhoods where the people grow up, have it real rough, you know, and most of the time they don’t come out to be so positive. All they’re surrounded by is violence and hate, and they’re not really surrounded by that positivity and that peacefulness that they need to get to know themselves and get to be creative and artistic. And when you come to Destiny, I feel that you get that.
Herman Pecot: The spirit is very ripe here. The spirit of Bushido, the warrior’s code, Destiny really cultivates that part of the being. You know, the balance of power and peace and skill and kindness, all that mixed together. So that’s what we’re seeing.
Arianna Butler: I couldn’t imagine me without Destiny. I really couldn’t. And even when we have breaks from Destiny, I’m still like, “Dang! I miss dance class! Dang! I miss Sarah! Dang! I miss the company!”
Dalmacio Payomo: I can’t even explain how deep the bonds are between everyone in Destiny and the company, in the classes that I teach. The teachers that I work with are just amazing.
Everything You Could Want in a Youth Organization
Giana Cirolia: If I had two words to describe Destiny, I would say presence and energy.
Young woman: Beautiful and empowering.
Javier Santos: Positive. Family orientated. Strong, beautiful, caring. Real . . . hah! Real!
Emerald Mitchell: A short phrase? I’ll try to make a short phrase that can describe Destiny . . . “Everything you could possibly want in a youth organization.”
Fees and Funding
The Destiny Art Center offers scholarship programs to families who are unable to afford the fees for the various dance or martial arts classes offered. In addition to offering free trial classes, the center also enforces a strict policy that no family will be denied access due to a lack of funds.
Destiny’s success and ability to continue offering quality programs and a safe haven for kids is because of the continued support from the community. Be it through monetary donations, the offering of physical space for programs, or the valuable help from volunteers, Destiny Arts Center is thankful for all its support.
Watch The Video!
Programs That Teach Violence Prevention
Growing peaceful warriors does not mean being passive. It’s exactly the opposite as kids learn how to channel their energy while moving their skills toward violence prevention through dance and martial arts, games, and role playing exercises.
Real Talk – Real Moves: violence prevention for teens and young adults.
The ABCs of Anger: creative conflict resolution.
Self-Defense for Boys and Girls.
Moving in the Movement: using dance and theater as tools for social change.
Dance Basics: hip-hop, modern, African & Latin dance.
Martial Arts Basics: kung fu, karate & Capoeira.
Hip-Hop and Beyond: the African roots of hip-hop.
Theater for the People : theater games and exercises that explore the nature of life.
If you want to learn more about Destiny Arts Center or to be inspired to create a similar organization in your community, please visit their website.