Amazing Mom: Amy Barzach

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When baby Jonathan died of spinal muscular atrophy, his mom Amy Barzach devoted her life to creating playgrounds for kids with disabilities. Credit: Courtesy of Amy Barzach

Amazing Mom: Amy Barzach, founder of Boundless Playgrounds, a nonprofit organization that builds inclusive playgrounds where children of all abilities can play together.

Amy's Family: Husband: Peter, married 23 years; Kids: Daniel, 18, Alyssa, 14, Michael, 12, Jonathan, forever 9 months

Amy Lives In: West Hartford, Connecticut

Why Amy Is Amazing: Sixteen years ago, Amy Barzach thought she had the perfect life. And she did. A great husband, two wonderful little boys, a nice suburban home and plenty of involvement in her community.

And then one day, out of the blue, her young son Jonathan could no longer hold his head up. She couldn't imagine what it could be; he had been vibrant and healthy just the day before.

It wasn't long before he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a neuro-muscular disease characterized by degeneration of motor neurons, resulting in progressive wasting away and weakness. Depending on the severity of the disease, some patients die early in infancy and others can go on to live a normal adult life with only mild weakness.

Amy Barzach and her daughter Alyssa show a wheelchair-bound child how he can have fun at the playground. Credit: Courtesy of Amy Barzach

On Christmas Eve, the doctors switched his diagnosis to terminal. Amy and Peter were assigned a hospice counselor who told them, recalls Amy, "to take on a project, something you can imagine would make Jonathan smile." Amy's husband told the woman that the last thing he needed was another project and that they were having a hard enough time just getting through every day. But she pushed back, Amy says, and said to them: "I promise you that if you can come up with the essence of an idea and you can look Jonathan in the eye and tell him and then someday make that idea happen, you will have comfort and you will feel connected for the rest of your life."

He died a week later and Amy grieved for three months straight, unable to get out of bed, unable to function.Then, as Jonathan's first birthday approached, she remembered a little girl in a wheelchair she'd seen at a playground who couldn't do anything but watch the other kids play. It was at that moment she knew what her project should be: To create a place where everyone could play.

Eighteen months later, Jonathan's Dream, the inclusive playground named in honor of her son, opened in West Hartford, Conn.

Shortly thereafter, Time Magazine wrote a little piece about it, "not even a full article," Amy notes. Suddenly she was inundated by phone calls and requests from other parents around the country who wanted to do the same thing. Eventually she secured a grant from the Hasbro Foundation and launched her nonprofit organization, Boundless Playgrounds.

Over the next 12 years, from 1997 to 2008, her company built 135 playgrounds in 25 states. In 2008, she realized that her good idea had grown from being entrepreneurial to a full-fledged company that needed a CEO to help it grow to the next level. She stepped down last year, yet, still holds the titles founder and director emeritus.

Today, Amy is a nationally acclaimed speaker, personal coach and advocate for inclusive communities and children with disabilities.

Amy's Daughter Alyssa Says: "My mom is amazing because her mission in life is to help everyone she can. She ensures that all people feel important in their own way. She's a strong woman, she's patient and she's a really nice mom."

Recognition: Chair of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition's Inclusive Play National Coalition (IFC); North American Fellow for Ashoka, an international social entrepreneurs fellowship, for people dedicated to making a difference; 2008 Martha Stewart Dreamers Into Doers Award

Amy's Guilty Pleasures: "Laying in a hammock on a beautiful day. Sitting in my friend Andrea's amazing garden with its koi pond, beautiful trees and flowers. I love to read the newspaper there on a Sunday morning. I've discovered that when moms take care of themselves we actually have much more to give to our families, our jobs and our communities."

Amy's Best Advice
: "It took me until I was 48 years old to learn that it isn't selfish to take care of myself. And I just turned 49. In 2008, I was no longer involved in the daily operations of Boundless Playgrounds and started a new chapter of my life as a speaker and a coach and with IFC. As I was coaching people and I realized that they were getting burned out or tired out or parts of their life were draining them, and they didn't have that same passion they used to have, I realized that if I was coaching other people to take care of themselves then I had to do the same thing for myself."

Amy also encourages moms to heed her Playground Philosophy of going "over, under, around and through," any and all obstacles you face in your journey, as she's the first to admit that things never go exactly as planned.

Related: Amazing Mom: Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène

Want to see who else made the list? Click here for the rest of AOL's 2010 Amazing Moms!


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.