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Hoover resident and Pelham police officer Dustin Chandler holds his daughter, Carly, who has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. An all- inclusive playground called Carly’s Clubhouse is being built in Pelham in her name. Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha.
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Carly Chandler was born with a very rare disorder called CDKL5. Her father is planning Carly’s Clubhouse in her honor. Photo courtesy of Dustin Chandler.
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This rendering shows the plans for Carly’s Clubhouse, a 30,000 square-foot all-inclusive playground in Pelham that will have unique equipment such as zip lines, rocket ships and wheelchair-accessible swings. Image courtesy of Dustin Chandler.
Three-year-old Carly Chandler will never be able to walk, talk or feed herself. But thanks to her father, Dustin Chandler, she will soon enjoy an all-accessible playground where she can play with children of all abilities.
Dustin, a Hoover resident and Pelham police officer, is currently planning and raising funds for an all-inclusive playground called Carly’s Clubhouse. Carly was born with a very rare disorder called CDKL5. There is no cure for CDKL5, and it causes severe developmental delays. After Carly was diagnosed, Dustin met countless parents of children with special needs.
“A common thread with all of us is we want our children to be able to play with their able-bodied siblings or peers,” said Dustin. “After many days trying to find a solution, the idea of Carly’s Clubhouse was born.”
The city of Pelham donated the land for the 30,000-square-foot playground, and Dustin said it will have a variety of fun components such as accessible zip lines, a rocket ship with flashing lights, a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, swings and more.
“We should allow our children to learn about each other in a true social setting,” Dustin said. “Carly’s Clubhouse will provide a place for our children to play ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ and see children from other walks of life. It will allow their parents to meet other parents walking the same path or possibly a different one.”
Dustin is the general coordinator for multiple committees and volunteers that meet every three weeks. This past fall, community meetings were held as a kickoff celebration in Pelham. Dustin has also been traveling to various events promoting the project.
“My hope is that through this whole process people can come together and learn about each other,” said Dustin. “We can learn that children with special needs are no different than ourselves.”
Kyle Cundy is the project manager of Leathers and Associates, the firm that designed the playground.
“These playgrounds turn into destination playgrounds and service more than just their immediate community,” she said. “Families from surrounding areas will travel in to utilize these play structures.”
Susan Lee is the special needs coordinator for the project and also a special-education teacher at Inverness Elementary School. She became involved with Carly’s Clubhouse for her 6-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who has a genetic disorder called Rett syndrome. Lee said her two brothers have missed out on playing with their little sister.
“We used to frequent the parks around Shelby County on a regular basis,” Lee said. “Several years ago, when Alyssa was about 3 years old, they stopped asking to go to the park. Finally, I asked them, ‘Why?’ Their answer broke my heart. They said it made them sad to go play and see Alyssa just sitting in her wheelchair watching. I am involved with Carly’s Clubhouse so that my children can all play together like typical siblings.”
Although the playground is located in Pelham, Dustin said he hopes it will benefit all of Birmingham.
“I grew up in Hoover and am proud to call it home,” said Dustin. “I really want Hoover to be part of this project.”
Dustin said around $1 million is needed to create the playhouse. If more funds are raised than needed for the project, Dustin plans to use the money to help other areas build their own unique play areas.
Carly also made state history this past spring. In April, Gov. Robert Bentley signed a piece of legislation named after her called Carly’s Law, which authorizes a study that will examine the use of oil derived from medical marijuana to treat seizures. The study will be done by the UAB Department of Neurology and is the first of its kind in Alabama.
The Carly’s Clubhouse project’s next fundraiser is set for January 24 at the Pelham Civic Complex.
For more, visit carlysclubhouse.org.