For families with special needs children, Kandice Bannerman is creating a fun, safe haven.
Bannerman, formerly Kandice Johnson, grew up in Wadesboro but moved to Raleigh in 1991. She married Mike Bannerman in 2002 and together they had a son, Michael David Bannerman, now 5.
Michael struggles with seizures and is her inspiration for creating a fun, safe place where special needs children can play. “My love for him is why I am heartbroken every time I try to take my son somewhere to play and end up leaving because it just can’t accommodate him,” Bannerman wrote on her website.
“There are so few resources for Michael, and for children like Michael that are designed to bring fun to their lives,” she wrote. “When we attempt to take him to a place like Monkey Joe’s, or Adventure Landing or any place that is designed for fun for children, he can’t enjoy them. There are too many people, he doesn’t understand how to play with the games, or it’s so poorly spaced that he bumps into everything. I can only imagine how a child in a wheel chair must feel.”
Faced with the need for a play area for Michael and frustration at her lack of resources, Bannerman decided to create her own playspace, called Someone Special Like Me in 2012. Still in the fundraising stages, Bannerman said she has received a lot of support for her initiative, drawing such sponsors as Walgreens, State Farm and many others.
In fact, the response has been so huge that she decided that she’s not going to wait. A smaller-scale version of the facility should open later this summer, with the main one set to open at the end of the year.
Someone Special Like Me raised over $10,000 at its first big fundraiser and is currently working on its second. Bannerman estimated that they are on track to raise $50,000 this year.
Bannerman plans for the facilities to be accessible for all children with any special considerations. “The types of things we’ll have will be items that will lend themselves to the sensory needs of chidren with special needs,” she said. “We’ll have a dark room with low light and objects that are lit up so that some children can be in a non-stimulating environment, since light can trigger seizures. We’ll have places where they can run and jump. The floor will be made of foam, so if someone has a seizure they will be safe. Safety is our top priority.”
Bannerman has consulted with therapists and doctors about what considerations should be taken for the varied needs of the children who will play at the Someone Special Like Me facilities. She has also learned from Michael about what other considerations need to be taken. To prevent injury during a seizure, Michael’s floor is covered in four-inch thick foam, which is covered in a soft material.
Although the buildings will be designed to be used by children with special needs, Bannerman stressed that they will be accessible for all children.
“It’s not for people in a wheelchair, people with MS, people with seizures,” she said. “It’s for all kids who are special needs and need a safe environment. We’re not excluding anybody. And for some kids, like siblings of those with special needs, there will be a section where typical children can play. This is an environment where children with needs can participate, rather than be excluded.”
Someone Special Like Me accepts partnerships and sponsorships of monetary support, goods and time. Walgreens, one of the largest supporters, gave out goody bags and hundreds of toys in addition to setting up tents at last year’s race. There are various levels of sponsorship, but Someone Special Like Me will accept all offers and recognize all donations of money, goods or time, however small. “Even if you can’t give money but want to make a team to bring a pizza to a race or register and pay to run, that’s support,” Bannerman said. “Last year, a group had two people and $50, so they came to the race and helped do anything and everything needed.”
Although the facilities will be designed to cater to special needs children from birth to age 17, other programs will be offered. “We will offer summer programs, after-school programs and special respite hours for parents,” according to Someone Special’s website. “We also plan to have special fun nights for adults with special needs, including movie nights, game nights and many other exciting nights!”
Bannerman is excited for her project and said she has had a lot of support both from her community and family. Although she has lived in Raleigh since 1991, she still has Wadesboro connections and still visits, she said. Her family was “big” in Wadesboro, she said, with her father, sports star and coach Richard Johnson, her mother, Kathy Johnson, who was “big in the community,” and her grandmother, the late Gertrude Johnson, who wrote the column “East Rockford News” for the Anson Record. Bannerman also has two brothers, Lance and Brent, her husband, Mike, and a great-uncle, local celebrity Lightning Gaddy. Additionally, she is supported and inspired by her former third-grade teacher, Mary Lynn Ross (Tyson).
With her community and family behind her, Bannerman is furthering her project. “I’m so greatful that I’m the person God has chosen to do this,” she said.
For information on how to support Someone Special Like Me or to learn more about the upcoming facilities, call 919-480-1854 or visit www.someonespeciallikeme.org.