Joy Horn has been a resident of Cheshire her entire life.
After attending Cheshire High School, she knew she wanted to stay in town and commute to college. She and her husband eventually bought a house and began a family in the community. When Horn gave birth to her son, Thayer, and learned he had Down Syndrome, she hoped that Cheshire would be a good environment in which to raise him.
Now, Town officials have helped to make the family feel even more a part of the community.
“When you have a child with Down syndrome, there is a point where you sort of need to mourn the child that you had thought you would have,” Horn explained. “And with that goes the normal sort of interactions an atypical child would have. But now he has completely changed my life and I am a huge advocate for children and parents of children who have Down syndrome.”
Horn and Thayer are frequent users of Cheshire’s many parks, but in March Horn noticed an issue at one of their favorite spots.
“Thayer loves the swings and going to the park so that's something we do a lot and we live closest to Cheshire Park,” Horn explained. “One of the things I noticed about Cheshire Park is that they did not have appropriate swings set up for younger children or even children with disabilities.”
The typical swing configuration is made for young adults and children who can hold themselves upright, something with which a young child with Down syndrome might have difficulty, according to Horn.
“Thayer just learned to hold his head upright, and he needs the back support that the more involved swings have,” she detailed. “Some of them even have a bar or securing mechanism that comes down over the child's head, which is another way of securing them into the seat.”
Horn initially reached out to the Cheshire Parks and Recreation Director John Gawlak to see if he could help her with what she needed.
“I really wasn’t expecting a lot. I figured I would let him know of the situation and if I needed to pay for the swing or whatever I was willing to do it,” Horn said. “But what I got in return was far above my expectations.”
Galwak immediately responded to Horn’s request, informing her he would need to look into the issue at hand.
“I was not expecting much to come from it, I was even expecting him to just say that it wasn’t a possibility, which I would’ve accepted,” Horn added.
Horn assumed her email would likely be ignored, and that she would have to find a solution for Thayer in a different way.
“I’m almost embarassed that such a big deal is being made about this,” joked Gawlak. “I didn’t even know that park was deficent in those swings until she made me aware of it. All I did was notify the Town, make sure we had the proper funding, and then see when Public Works could install it.”
Three months later, on May 27, Gawlak surprised Horn and Thayer with an email letting her know that not only was the issue looked into, but that the new swing was installed that day at Cheshire Park. Now, every park in Cheshire has a set of more supportive swings, along with the typical “belt-style” swings.
“I asked him (Gawlak) if he wanted to meet us down at the swings and when we saw them we were just overwhelmed with joy,” Horn said. “Thayer was so happy. This is why I stayed in Cheshire, because of the community and the dedication that Town officials have. This is why I never left, and would never even dream of living anywhere else.”