By Rachel Gross Weinstein
With technology so prevalent in children’s lives through computers, television and video games, there are fewer opportunities for them to enjoy the outdoors. However, with the opening of the new Naturescape at the Aaron Family JCC, kids of all ages are able to rediscover the beauty of nature and have a place to call home for years to come.
The J Naturescape is a miniature natural landscape with rolling hills, stone walls for climbing, gardens, water play, natural rock piles, loose parts for constructing things, a painting area, a bird-watching area and more. The idea behind this project, which was officially dedicated on Jan. 29, was to create a place for kids to experience the natural world. The Naturescape is located in the backyard of the J and totals around 54,000 square feet.
“The J Naturescape is another way the JCC is trying to provide the opportunity for children of all ages to experience something that’s really needed,” said JCC President Artie Allen. “Going out and being in nature is something children aren’t experiencing these days and we are thrilled to be able to provide that for our kids, for camp, early childhood department and the overall community. It is really something special.”
The J Naturescape consists of two main areas: the Rubin Family Playground and the Seymour Family Woods, both of which honors the two lead donor families, Pam and Ron Rubin and Laura and Jeff Seymour. The Rubin’s are the parents of Julie Liberman, who co-chaired the Naturescape project with her husband, Jay.
The Libermans became involved in the Naturescape as a way to give back to the J and believed being involved with this project would be the best way to do that. They also knew their 4-year-old daughter, Sally, would enjoy having a wonderful playground to play on.
“We’ve been waiting so long for the Naturescape to be done and now it’s here. It’s amazing,” Julie Liberman said. “Our daughter loves being outside and we thought this was something that’s lasting that all children will enjoy.”
Plans for the Naturescape began in 2009 and the fundraising campaign officially began in spring, 2010. Laura Seymour, the J’s camp director, since 1977, originally presented the idea for a natural playground, and she and her husband Jeff were involved in the project from the beginning.
Camp and the outdoors have always been important to the Seymours — in addition to being the J’s camp director for close to 35 years, Seymour met her husband at camp. As such, this type of outdoor playground is a dream come true for her.
“This is our home and we know that kids need a place in nature to be wild and call their home,” she said. “We are very excited that we now have a spot that belongs to all of the campers, past and present. This is our children’s inheritance, but we have given them a legacy of giving back to community, which is the best inheritance you can possibly give your children.”
Tara Ohayon, director of the J’s Early Childhood Center, said this is an incredible gift for all of the children involved at the J and the kids who attend the J preschool will get to experience the Naturescape in various ways every day and being outdoors benefits cognitive, growth and motor skills. It’s a win-win situation for all.
That’s especially true for Andrea and Jonathan Bard, as the J has played an important role in their family’s lives. Their two sons, Aaron and Jason, went to preschool at the J and come to camp every summer.
“We are really encouraged by this playground because I want my kids to be active and have an appreciation for nature,” Andrea Bard explained. “The world is more computer-driven today and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids to play outside and be in nature. I recently noticed that there is so much we miss when we are inside like bugs, flowers and trees. This is a great way for kids to soak up everything about the nature and the outdoors.”
The Aaron Family JCC is located at 7900 Northaven Road in North Dallas. For more information about the Naturescape, contact Kerri Aikin at 214-239-7103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.