Play Place for Autistic Children, a 25,000–square foot facility in Sterling Heights, Mich., offers autistic kids and their families a safe, supportive environment to play, learn and socialize. Founder and board president Shell Jones envisioned Play Place as a judgement-free space for her 13-year-old autistic son, Duane, and her family.
The space includes a carousel, art studio, playscape, computer cafe, haircut hut, calming rooms and more. A bistro and movie theater are coming soon. Play Place also offers programming such as Teen Night, a children’s choir and classes taught by community members focusing on life skills.
Finally, a Play Place work program provides employment for those with autism in retail, maintenance, food service and office positions.
According to the Detroit Free Press, 90 percent of the $1.7-million project was covered through donations, a local business is covering the salaries of the two employees, and fundraising and grants will cover operating costs.
As part of the volunteer effort, the IBEW Local No. 58 and the NECA Southeastern Michigan chapter were instrumental in getting the project up and running. Because of the substantial size of the project, the two groups were connected through the Michigan Labor Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC).
Roughly 30 IBEW workers were involved in construction, including the organization’s regular volunteers from the Community Service Committee as well as apprentices from the local training center and retirees. Electrical contractor Ferndale Electric, Ferndale, Mich., found an electrical engineering firm to create the blueprints, generated a materials list, obtained quotes for lighting and fixtures (many of which were donated or offered at steep discounts), and managed the project.
The work included a complete fire alarm system and integration of the HVAC units. All of the existing fluorescent lighting, which can be an issue for autistic children, was replaced with LED lighting, which required all new branch circuits for outlets. Some specialty power requirements were also provided, such as power for a carousel, the movie theater and other areas for the kids.
The groups began construction in January 2016, and, together, they provided more than 600 skilled labor hours, materials and cash that amounted to a nearly $250,000 donation—their largest community contribution ever.