Michael Alon is founder of the Let All the Children Play Foundation and an alumnus of the NY Wexner Heritage Program. He is a businessman living in Long Island, NY.  For more information on how you can get involved with LATCP, go to www.latcp.org.  Michael can be reached at Malon7@aol.com.

Summer 1992

I am in Israel, along with a group of other Wexner Heritage members at our Wexner Heritage Program Summer Institute.  It is not my first trip to this remarkable country, but I am seeing Israel in a completely different light.  We are meeting fascinating people and visiting interesting places.  Every day is filled with stimulating discussions and insights about Israeli life, culture, politics and religion, which are intertwined and always complicated.

On this particular day, we spend the morning in an intense study session in Jerusalem.  As a reward for our efforts, we are given the rest of the day off.  I am planning a leisurely lunch until my friends and Wexner “classmates” Patricia Fragin and Jack Dweck tell me they have something entirely different in mind.

Before I can say “chofesh” (Hebrew for free time), we are in a car traveling north to the Beit Issie Shapiro Center in Ra’anana, which I have never heard of and know nothing about.  But it will change me forever. 

BIS is truly an amazing place, dedicated to providing therapeutic daycare and treatment to the developmentally disabled and offering a wide variety of services to support their families.  We tour the state-of-the-art facility and learn about the cutting-edge research that is being conducted in cooperation with prestigious academic institutions around the globe.  Most important, we see special needs children participating in an array of educational and social activities, their lives enriched by skilled and dedicated professionals who are fierce advocates for their full inclusion into society.

After my visit, I realized that there was so much I could do in my own community and beyond to help developmentally disabled children and their families.  I had found my passion, and I was committed to doing something about it.

Fortunately, I had some familiarity in the playground industry, having developed a chain of children’s play centers called Kidmazeum.  My initial thought was to create a specialized Kidmazeum facility in the United States just for kids with disabilities.  But then I expanded my horizons, and reached out to the incredible staff at BIS for input about building a playground in Israel.  With their knowledge and expertise—and after winning approvals from the convoluted Israeli bureaucracy—we opened Gan Haverim in Ra’anana Park in 2002. 

Expanding upon this concept, and using many of the leadership skills I learned in the Wexner Heritage Program, I created the Let All the Children Play Foundation (LATCP), a not-for-profit charitable foundation that promotes “Inclusion through sport and play” for children with disabilities and their able-bodied peers.

LATCP’s main goal is to develop fun, innovative and safe parks and playgrounds for regular interaction and gatherings, inspiring the development of a “play” community.  Beyond the building of these facilities, LATCP is making an even greater impact through highly specialized programming.  We are breaking down barriers for children with disabilities, creating social change, and helping to improve the lives of all children and members of the community.

In a partnership formed with Tiki Recreation, which was founded by businessman, broadcaster, philanthropist and former NFL star Tiki Barber, and KOMPAN Playgrounds, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of playground equipment; we are building parks and creating integrated programs for children of diverse abilities.  This team effort began in 2009 at Eisenhower Park in Long Island, New York and will be expanded into other locations.  Each state-of-the art facility will include programs that foster a truly integrated environment that will allow children of all abilities to play side-by-side. 

I often think back to that sunny day in Israel when I visited the Beit Issie Shapiro Center.  Would I have been motivated to create my foundation and devote my time to helping children in need if not for the Wexner Heritage Program?  I don’t know for sure, but I am certain that the Wexner Foundation provided me with the tools I needed to become a leader, and to build on the philanthropic ideals espoused by Leslie and Abigail Wexner, both of whom believe that there is nothing more important than giving back to the community.