In 1998, Tiffany Harris co-founded the international non-profit organization Shane’s Inspiration with Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams in memory of their son Shane Alexander Williams. Shane was born in 1997 with spinal muscular atrophy and only survived for two weeks. Wanting to pay tribute to their son’s short life, Catherine and Scott decided to create a universally accessible, all-inclusive playground which would allow children with disabilities to play with other children, the first in the western United States.
As a close friend of Catherine and Scott, Tiffany Harris was asked to join forces with them on the project. Tiffany had been in the delivery room with them when Shane was born. She also had a background working with the non-profit Big Brother Big Sisters organization; her professional experience was essential in launching Shane’s Inspiration. After gathering support from friends, family and community leaders, the first Shane’s Inspiration playground was opened at Griffith Park in Los Angeles in 2000. It was the beginning of a wave of accessible, inclusive play that would take on a global impact. Current projects include:
- 68 inclusive playgrounds throughout the world.
- 75 playgrounds in development.
- 8 international playgrounds in Mexico, Israel, Canada, Ecuador and Russia.
- Education and community outreach programs, which work to eliminate bias against children with disabilities, that have directly served over 40,000 children in over 200 schools.
While Catherine and Scott are actively involved in the fundraising and promoting of the organization, Tiffany Harris serves as the CEO. She runs the day-to-day operations and supervises all strategic planning. She also oversees the following three programs:
- My Playground Catalyst Program which partners with individuals, community leaders, and local government to provide guidance through the step-by-step process of creating an inclusive playground in their town.
- My PlayClub, a free community outreach program that brings families together quarterly at one of their inclusive playgrounds. Snacks are provided, along with arts & crafts, face painting and opportunity for lots of play. Annual sponsors of include Disney and Universal Studios, among others. The program has been replicated in eight other cities.
- Together We Are Able Social Inclusion Education Program, an ability awareness program that promotes integration and understanding among students, teachers and parents. The program first educates children through critical thinking, creative writing and awareness exercises in the classroom. Subsequently, the children with disabilities are then paired for a day of play at one of the inclusive playgrounds. Follow up visits to the schools confirm the profound and lasting impact of the program as children gain new awareness and acceptance of one another. This program has been ordered in over 65 countries throughout the world.
According to Tiffany Harris, the absolute best thing about working with the Shane’s Inspiration organization is getting to know the children and families they serve. On the flip side, the most challenging aspect is not being able to meet the ever-growing worldwide demand for inclusive playgrounds and their education and community outreach programs.
One of Tiffany’s most favorite success stories involves Spencer Hawk, a 15-year-old high school sophomore who was born with thrombocytopenia absent radii, more commonly known as TAR syndrome. He was missing arm bones and has low platelets. Because his legs did not form correctly, he became a double amputee in the 1st grade to provide himself more mobility and less pain.
Spencer was first brought to an inclusive playground when he was two years old. He says, “At Shane’s Inspiration playgrounds, I’ve always felt accepted and included. I grew up being able to play alongside my typically-abled friends on these playgrounds. That was so important to me. I was never left out. That’s a big deal.”
In March 2018, Shane’s Inspiration celebrated 20 years as a global leader in creating inclusive playgrounds and educational programs for children with disabilities. A 20th anniversary gala was hosted in Downtown Los Angeles to honor prominent advocates in the special needs community. In recognition of inspiring people to break down barriers of bias and exclusion for children with disabilities, Tiffany Harris was presented with the Visionary Leadership Award.
Most recently, Shane’s Inspiration held their successful 21st Annual Run, Rock & Roll event to raise funds to create more inclusive playgrounds and educational programs. NorthStar Moving was proud to volunteer and provide moving and set-up assistance at the event.
Future plans for Shane’s Inspiration include a playground opening in South Africa in 2019. There are also high-profile projects in the works with Carnegie Hall, Sesame Street and the Fred Rogers Center. Their education program is being developed into a CEU (Continuing Education Unit) for educators throughout the country.
Tiffany Harris and the Shane’s Inspiration team are grateful to their corporate, foundation and individual philanthropists who help continue to impact the lives of children, families and communities throughout the world by supporting a legacy of inclusion, laughter and play for all.
Ways To Get Involved with Shane’s Inspiration
- Sign up to become a volunteer.
- Make a one-time or monthly financial donation, an Honor or Memorial Gift, or a Planned Gift.
- Host a Fundraising Event or create a Fundraising Page.
- Shop for Shane’s at stores/ websites that will contribute a portion of your purchases.
- Get your company involved and join their corporate partners.
- Spread the word; share this story on your social media and follow Shane’s Inspiration on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
All images via Shane’s Inspiration.
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