A first-of-its-kind inclusive resort, the RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams, will open Saturday in Toms River, New Jersey.
The grand opening of the $3.6 million facility comes after nearly five years of planning and pandemic-related delays and challenges. The Toms River complex will focus on serving children with physical and social disabilities.
While the resort’s opening was a triumph, it all started as a horrible nightmare. Christian Kane was driving with his 19-month-old son, Gavin, when a beer truck slammed into his car near Toms River High School North. As a result, Gavin suffered head trauma, a right front stroke and a complete skull fracture.
Today, Gavin is 11 years old. He is in a wheelchair most of the time and he communicates mainly via an iPad. But he’s an ordinary preteen who makes jokes at his parents’ expense and wants to play with his friends.
Gavin Kane at RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“He wanted to do everything all the other kids were doing,” said Mary Kane, Gavin’s mother. “But because of his lack of strength to hold his head up, he was very limited.”
As Gavin grew older, she found it increasingly difficult to take him to playgrounds and involve him in sports. The Kanes have six children.
“It was very difficult, almost impossible, for me to get him on a swing or a slide or something, so he didn’t. We could go to the playgrounds and he could watch, and it’s not fun,” Mary Kane mentioned.
Five years ago, Gavin’s parents grew tired of seeing him sitting on the sidelines. They imagined a playground and a sports complex where children of all levels could play and participate in physical activities together. “To be able to do things that they didn’t think they could do,” said Christian Kane.
Christian Kane, an advanced level statistics teacher at Toms River High School North, threw everything he had into this project. The $3.6 million facility would require major sponsors, state aid, grants and fundraising, in addition to specialized equipment to accommodate children of all abilities.
A young girl tries out the new playground for the first time.
Christian Kane said the biggest challenge came when the pandemic nearly threatened the entire project. This meant a major increase in commodity prices and a shortage of construction workers.
“Because of inflation, something that cost $4 and was going to be donated now costs $12 to $13,” he said. “All of a sudden I get these bills that I know I’m going to have to fund somehow.”
Now that the complex is ready, Christian Kane said he receives requests from groups across the state who want to tour the facility. The Kanes gave CNBC a first look at the facility ahead of its official opening. Gavin and some of his closest friends also had the chance to visit the resort for the first time.
“You can hear the pure fun of the kids in the background and you knew that was what they needed,” said Christian Kane.
The state-of-the-art 3.5-acre complex includes a basketball court made of special materials to accommodate wheelchairs, a miniature golf course, a baseball field and a playground that welcomes children with walkers, wheelchairs wheels and more. It also has a community garden, pavilion, snack bar and quiet corner that overlooks the woods.
“You know when you come here that you’re not going to be stared at and you’re not going to be stared at and you know that you’re coming here for pure fun and enjoyment,” Christian Kane said.
Doctors say that the benefits of such a facility are crucial.
Gavin and Christian Kane at RWJBarnabas Health’s new FIELD OF DREAMS.
“The ability to play, learn and show off your skills outside of the hospital is sometimes as important as the medications and therapies that happen in the hospital,” said Specialty Hospital CEO Matt McDonald. for kids, which treats Gavin.
When Gavin first tested the facility, he showed pure joy being surrounded by other kids who looked just like him. For parents, it’s a place to let their guard down and socialize with other families facing similar challenges.
Christian Kane said he hoped this was just the start. He wants others to see the importance and success of his complex and build facilities that resemble him.
He passes by the site of his crash every day on his way to work, but he said driving near the new Field of Dreams made his days a little better.
“Walk past and see kids and adults playing here,” he said. “All the hard work to build this was worth it.”