Imagine a place where those with physical or mental limitations can participate in an amusement park catered exactly for their needs, to create wonderful memories together with family and friends.
This is the vision and mission of Jamie Vann, 46, president and founder of Spirit of Discovery Park. And she plans to develop it right here in the St. Louis area.
She describes her vision: “Spirit of Discovery Park (SoDP) is a model of diversity, equality and inclusion; bringing together an extremely marginalized population of diseased and disabled to partner with the healthy and able-bodied for fun and adventure.”
This unique, 60-acre theme park is designed for people with physical, mental and intellectual disabilities as well as veterans… to ensure EVERY body has a place where they can feel the wind on their face, laugh and create wonderful memories.
It also will serve as a resource for life-skills training, as well as employment opportunities. “Yes, it’s a big vision,” she adds, “but one that can positively impact our region and millions of people across the country who need a place just like this.”
Spirit of Discovery Park will include rides, attractions, a greenhouse, arcade, amphitheater, sensory areas, playgrounds, splash pads and sand activities with access designed for everyone to enjoy, regardless of ability.
The admissions policy will be such that any person of disability will be admitted FREE of charge and families will visit, nationally and internationally, without the fear of a loved one being left out of the fun. And locating it in the center of the country will allow easier travel, allowing perhaps a car ride versus a flight, she explains.
The vision for Spirit of Discovery Park came about six years ago, Jamie says, when she was made aware of an injustice. She set forth to make it right--not realizing at the time, it would reveal itself as a calling. Jamie saw this injustice as a challenge, and as she does with most challenges, she accepted it.
The challenge was sparked by a typical playdate with a fellow mom of three, who expressed that she wouldn’t be taking her family to Disney World because her middle daughter, born with Down syndrome and Celiac disease (which is a fairly common combination), was unable to fully partake in the experiences at the Disney properties. Jamie was dumbfounded, then infuriated, and sad. She always had truly admired Walt Disney and so enjoyed Disney World… and actually dreamed of being a part of it someday. As she became more aware of its limitations for those with certain disabilities, dietary restrictions, etc., her passion for Disney and her mission to bring those kinds of experiences to ALL would present itself as an all-out challenge.
“Many of us have fond memories of visiting theme parks as children, but not everyone can be so lucky,” says Jamie. “There are children and parents across our world that have challenges that prevent them from enjoying theme parks in the same ways others do. We want to fill that void.”
SoDP began its fundraising efforts six year ago. Jamie says local and national business sponsorships and donors will provide the operational support and maintenance costs, making this park a reality in the very near future. “We have a multitude of different sponsorship opportunities both in and around the park. Every ride, attraction and venue can be utilized to promote our partnerships while showing support for our project.
“The Park will provide life-skills training with hundreds of jobs, classes, events, and unique experiences that many with disabilities have never had the opportunity to enjoy.”
For example, inspired by Disney Epcot’s ride Living with the Land, the Greenhouse at SoDP will provide an experience where guests interact with the Aeroponic Vertical Gardens throughout the Park, giving a glimpse of the future of technology and agriculture, and will provide a safe, stress-free, working environment for those with disabilities, and Veterans as they transition back into civilian life. The Greenhouse will bring Agritourism to the Midwest, producing dozens of benefits for the community, and making this greenhouse/vertical garden with its 1,500 aeroponic growing systems (towers) the largest in the world! Their consultant on the project is actually a former employee at Epcot’s Living with the Land.
“Through prayer and with a solid team, Spirit of Discovery Park is becoming a reality,” says Jamie. “From the mouth of Walt Disney, ‘all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ Thank you, in advance, for your support that allows us the courage to continue this dream for EVERY body.”
To view SoDP’s upcoming fundraising events and/or to donate: SpiritOfDiscoveryPark.com.