In 1998, Tiffany Harris co-founded the international nonprofit organization Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration with Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams in memory of their son, Shane Alexander Williams. Born in 1997 with spinal muscular atrophy, Shane only survived for two weeks. Catherine and Scott wanted to pay tribute to their son’s short life. So, they decided to create a universally accessible, all-inclusive playground. The first of its kind in the western United States, it would allow children with disabilities to play with other children.
A Wave of Inclusive Play
Tiffany Harris was in the delivery room with Catherine and Scott when Shane was born. They asked their close friend to join forces with them on the project. With a background working with the nonprofit organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tiffany’s professional experience was essential in launching Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration. After gathering support from friends, family and community leaders, the first Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration playground opened in 2000 at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. It began a wave of accessible, inclusive play that took 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 actively promote and raise funds for the organization, Tiffany Harris in turn 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, a program which partners with individuals, community leaders, and local governments 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. Among others, annual sponsors include Disney and Universal Studios. This program also exists in eight other cities.
- Together, We Are Able, 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. Schools confirm the program’s profound and lasting impact as children gain new awareness and acceptance of one another. Over 65 countries throughout the world have requested their own Together, We Are Able program.
The Absolute Best
According to Tiffany Harris, the absolute best thing about working with the nonprofit is getting to know the children and families they serve. On the other hand, 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.
For example, one of Tiffany’s favorite success stories involves Spencer Hawk, a 15-year-old high school sophomore. Born with thrombocytopenia absent radii (more commonly known as TAR syndrome), Spencer was missing arm bones and has low platelets. Because his legs did not form correctly, he became a double amputee in the 1st grade. As a result, he has more mobility and less pain.
Spencer was two years old when he first visited an inclusive playground. 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.”
Achievements, Goals and a Legacy
In March 2018, Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration celebrated 20 years as a global leader in creating inclusive playgrounds and educational programs for children with disabilities. To celebrate, they hosted a 20th anniversary gala 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 received the Visionary Leadership Award.
Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration also holds an annual Run, Rock & Roll event to raise funds to create more inclusive playgrounds and educational programs. NorthStar Moving is proud to volunteer to provide moving and set-up assistance at these events.
Future plans include opening a playground in South Africa. 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 Inclusion Matters team are grateful to their corporate, foundation and individual philanthropists. Their help continues to impact the lives of children, families and communities throughout the world. Moreover, the support upholds a legacy of inclusion, laughter and play for all.
Get Involved with Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration
- Sign up to become a volunteer.
- Make a one-time or monthly or round-up financial donation. There are also several Planned Giving options.
- Host a Fundraising Event.
- Shop for Inclusion at stores/ websites that will contribute a portion of your purchases.
- Keep informed and join the Mailing List.
- Spread the word; share this story on your social media and follow Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
All images via Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration.
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