Amy Jaffe Barzach

Amy’s Passion

Amy is dedicated to inspiring people to work towards a world where everyone matters and everyone can make a difference. She is passionate about inclusion and leadership.  Through national leadership roles, Amy is working to educate policy makers and the public, building partnerships, and developing innovative programs to inspire people to create more inclusive and empowering communities.

Inclusive Fitness Coalition (www.incfit.org)
This includes devoting more time to her leadership role with the Inclusive Fitness Coalition (IFC). Established by the National Center for Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD), and the American College of Sports Medicine, IFC is a coalition of more than 70 organizations dedicated to increasing inclusive practices in all forms of fitness, sports and play. Amy E. Rauworth, Associate Director of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability said, “The Inclusive Fitness Coalition (www.incfit.org) was very pleased to appoint Amy as the Chairman of the Inclusive Play National Workgroup. Amy’s leadership, knowledge and enthusiasm are already having a significant impact.” Under Amy’s leadership, IFC’s Inclusive Play National Workgroup is currently meeting to develop consensus and define priorities, poised to create a national registry for inclusive playgrounds, and developing plans to bring attention to this issue through a national awareness campaign.

Bay Path College (www.baypath.edu)
Amy worked with Melissa Morris Olson of then Dean of Bay Path College’s School of Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy to develop curriculum for a new “Women’s Leadership” class for undergraduate students.  As a woman leader herself and as a mentor who coached leaders of all ages throughout the United States, Amy brought the curriculum to life.  In addition to incorporating the story and the lessons to be learned from important women leaders , Amy also included stories of ordinary people who were inspired to lead.  Students in the class soon shared her belief that everyone has leadership potential, as they were introduced to people who rose, sometimes from obscurity, to lead their community in the development of an inclusive playground project. A significant percentage of the time, the person who stepped up was a woman.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The shy school administrator who saw children with disabilities sadly watching the other children play during recess.  Thanks to her leadership, Pennsylvania’s 1st inclusive playground was built.
  • The veterinarian who didn’t have kids and wasn’t active in her community. After reading an article about Jonathan’s Dream, she invited potential donors to visit it with her, flew them to West Hartford in her private plane, and then led efforts to build a playground like it in Louisiana.
  • The elementary school student with spina bifida and her friend without a disability, who wanted to play together on a playground.  Their leadership created Hannah’s Dream at a public park in New Haven, CT.

In addition to technical support and challenge grants, Boundless Playgrounds taught people how to lead community projects and develop inclusive playgrounds.  As a result, a school administrator found her voice and used it to mobilize her community; a vet found a meaningful way to use her time, talent, and treasure; and two children learned you are never too young to make a difference.

Boundless Playgrounds

A little girl in a wheelchair sadly watched the other children play on a playground she couldn’t get to or on. She probably wondered why the playground wasn’t a place where everyone could play. Several months later, after the heartbreaking death of their nine-month-old son Jonathan from the terminal form of spinal muscular atrophy, Amy Jaffe Barzach, her husband Peter and Jonathan’s older brother Daniel, sought a meaningful way to honor his life. Remembering the little girl in the wheelchair, they decided to create a playground where children with and without disabilities, and their families, could play and learn together. They imagined that in Jonathan’s dreams, he would have wanted playgrounds to be places where everyone could celebrate life together.

Jonathan’s Dream opened in 1996 at the Mandell JCC (www.mandelljcc.org) on land donated by the Hebrew Home and Hospital as an open to the public community playground.  To learn more about Jonathan’s Dream, click here. After a volunteer contacted Time magazine and a small article ran in the December 1996 issue, hundreds of people contacted Amy wanting to learn how they could build playgrounds for the children of all abilities in their communities. This inspired Amy to lead a passionate team of parents and professionals to establish Boundless Playgrounds in 1997.  Founded in 1997, Boundless Playgrounds® is the first national nonprofit dedicated to helping communities create extraordinary barrier-free playgrounds where children, with and without disabilities, can develop essential skills for life as they learn together through play.

Over the years, two other children, Alyssa and Michael, joined the Barzach family and also got involved with Boundless Playgrounds. During her tenure as its founding executive director, Boundless Playgrounds raised awareness of the need for and benefits of inclusive playgrounds generating interest from people in every state, helped communities develop 135 inclusive playgrounds in 25 states, successfully implemented three state initiatives, and raised $20+ million for this cause including $4,000,000 in challenge grants that directly helped more than 50 communities develop their own inclusive playgrounds.

After dedicating more than a decade of her life to Boundless Playgrounds, Amy encouraged Boundless Playgrounds Board of Directors to initiate a search for its first CEO.  One year later she established Powerful Inspiration  to inspire people to work towards a world where everyone matters and everyone can make a difference.  Powerful Inspiration was created in response to the requests she received over the years from people who have heard her speak and read her book Accidental Courage, Boundless Dreams.

Jonathan’s Dream
It was a warm summer day in 1994 when Amy took her 3-year-old son, Daniel, and his infant brother, Jonathan, to a playground near their home in West Hartford, Connecticut. As Daniel joyfully played on the equipment, Amy noticed a young girl at the playground’s edge. Sitting in her wheelchair with tears in her eyes, the girl watched from the sidewalk as the other children played.

This image haunted Amy, but soon diminished in the face of her family’s tragedy: That fall, Jonathan was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare, degenerative neuromuscular disease. In January 1995, at only 9 months old, he died. When a bereavement counselor suggested that Amy and her husband Peter channel their grief into a project dedicated to their son, they remembered the little girl at the playground. The idea was to create a groundbreaking playground where children and people of all ages and all abilities could celebrate life together.

“It just seemed to be the right thing to do,” says Amy who has since had two more children, Alyssa and Michael. “If Jonathan had grown up, he would have needed a wheelchair and been that child alone on the sidewalk sadly waiting to play.”

The Barzachs envisioned a playground where children of all abilities could truly play together. It took a year and a half and $350,000 to develop their vision of a dream playground in their hometown of West Hartford, Connecticut, and recruit the volunteers necessary to build it.

The completed 25,000-square-foot playground, Jonathan’s Dream, designed by Learning Structures (www.learningstructures.com)  of New Hampshire was created so children of all abilities and their families could celebrate life together.

What makes Jonathan’s Dream special?

  • Children who use wheelchairs can play side by side with their friends without disabilities at waist-high sand tables where they can build castles, and “climb” to a universally-accessible tree house.
  • Children with sensory disabilities can have fun throughout the playground, including taking turns entertaining their friends on a music-chime wall or swinging together on the team tire hammock.
  • Children with disabilities like Down syndrome can play in the entire playground but especially benefit from the many different kinds of balancing activities.
  • Children of all abilities can play together on the glider boat swing, team limousine, four-car train, play houses, and more – just because they’re designed to be wide enough for support equipment doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun for feet too.

Amy says, “We will always appreciate the many volunteers who made Jonathan’s Dream possible, as well as Learning Structures, the community build playground company that helped our family design and create Jonathan’s Dream. We also appreciate the Hebrew Home and Hospital for donating the land for Jonathan’s Dream and the Mandell JCC on the Zachs Campus for making the playground part of its facilities and taking such good care of it.”

In 1996, weeks after the memorial playground was completed, a small article about it appeared in TIME magazine. As a result, hundreds of requests for help were received from individuals, organizations, schools and nonprofit organizations interested in creating playgrounds like it for the children in their communities. Boundless Playgrounds was established in 1997 to respond to those requests.