Skyler Phillips, Founder of Harvest Playground
My Name is Skyler Phillips, and I am a captain and paramedic with the Chattanooga Fire Department. I have devoted my entire adult life to public service, and have always taken pride in being the person that others looked to in their time of need. In early 2015, however, I found myself asking others for help.
As the father of a little boy with autism, I knew my son needed more help than I could provide. I reached out to my community to assist in obtaining a service dog to help my son navigate his disability. The community responded, and in a big way. In just over 3 months, we had raised all of the funds needed to be able to get his dog. Eighteen months later, in May 2017, my family travelled to Ohio to receive necessary training to be able to handle my son’s new service dog. During our training class, we met another family similar to ours. The dad was a firefighter/paramedic with a son who also had autism, and his family was also learning to handle his son’s new service dog.
Naturally, we were drawn to each other and soon began to talk. We learned that we were both “dadvocates” (dad advocates) and began discussing projects that we had been working on. He mentioned that he had been working with some other people on an inclusive playground. The seed was planted, and I began to research the need for a universally accessible playground in Chattanooga. During my research, I ran across an interview with Liberty Barnum, Little Miss Wheelchair Tennessee. Through teary eyes, I read her story of inaccessibility on playgrounds, and when she said, “There’s nothing I can really do except sit,” I knew this was something I had to do.
From that moment on, it became my mission to ensure that no other child in the Chattanooga area would have to say this again. While it was still in its infancy, and without a formal name, that day, Harvesting Inclusive Play was created. In the famous words of Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”