Clemyjontri is the inspiration of Adele Lebowitz who donated the 18 acres in Langley to establish a playground which is completely accessible to everyone, blurring the line between physically able and physically challenged children. She wanted a space where all children could use their imagination and learn while having fun. The extraordinary space opened in 2006 and now hosts over 200,000 visitors from across the United States and the world annually.
An early question is often about the name. Clemyjontri is a mash-up of the Lebowitz children’s names: Caroline, Emily, John and Petrina. Adele was married to Mortimer Lebowitz, owner of Morton’s Department Store in D.C.. Mortimer shared her belief that all people should be treated equally, having one of the first fully integrated stores in D.C. and being an equal opportunity employer.
Clemyjontri was named one of the Top Ten Most Imaginative Playgrounds Around the World by InCultureParent Magazine. Visiting the park on Georgetown Pike in McLean, one can easily agree. There is a multitude of attractions to delight every child, so plentiful that they are presented as “rooms.”
There is the Rainbow Room which features a delightful series of colorful arches and lots of swinging and swaying equipment, all in different colors and designed to accommodate different abilities. Red swings have special handholds for those who cannot pump with their legs, yellow swings have high backs to support the head and neck. Then there is the Liberty Swing that can be used with a wheelchair.
The Schoolhouse Room offers a multi-solution maze with moving panels and offers many opportunities for learning or reinforcing facts with an abacus, maps of the United States and the world, along with alphabet and number displays.
The Movin’ and Groovin’ Room focuses on transportation and includes a wheelchair drag strip, a wheelchair-accessible helicopter and more. A musical drum circle of instruments was added in 2011.
The Fitness and Fun Room provides great activities devoted to physical development, including upper body strengthening and balance – balance beams, rock-climbing, etc. Everything is designed with safety in mind while motivating the kids to master challenging tasks.
The centerpiece of all this learning, growing, and fun is the beautiful carousel, featuring fourteen horses and three chariots. The platform is flush to the concrete to allow wheelchairs. In fact, if you’re navigating in a wheelchair there is plenty of room to move anywhere in the park.
The design of the entire facility takes all abilities into account. Signs are presented in multiple languages, American Sign Language, and in Braille. Even the plantings were chosen with care. Vegetation with a high pollen count or that attracts bees was minimized. The surface is soft and porous yet durable to accommodate wheelchairs. In spite of its durability, the high visitor count caused it to wear out in eight years instead of its projected ten years. The Fairfax County Park Authority, which operates and maintains the park, has just completed a $1 Million resurfacing project.
Friends of Clemy is a non-profit volunteer organization which was founded to raise money and provide financial support for the park outside of the county’s budget. With extremely low operating costs, almost all donations go directly into park enhancements. In 2010 they purchased and installed the Liberty Swing, in 2011, they donated the drum circle, in 2012 they helped purchase and install the permanent “Big Top” tent providing a space for events plus an additional shade location when children need rest or quiet play. The Friends also hosts events like the 2012 Wounded Warrior picnic where , in that case, the parents had disabilities. Everyone can enjoy Clemyjontri.
The future is bright for the park. There are new phases of development in planning. including a Discovery Zone geared toward slightly older children. Wheelchair-accessible trails also will be established around the property.
Clemyjontri is a fantastic destination location for thousands and it also brings diners and shoppers to the area. However the mission remains to provide a place “where every child can play.” Perhaps the best story comes from a mother who explained that her child was developmentally disabled but, through their visits to Clemyjontri, her child was able to catch up with the other kids. Truly Clemyjontri is, as the Friends say, a slice of heaven.