Ann Romney delivered a message of hope and optimism Wednesday morning at the grand opening for a new theraupetic playground at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg: "Our little ones are our responsibility," she said. "It is our responsibility to take care of them and make sure their lives have joy."
"No matter our limits, it is important to know joy," Romney, 63, told the crowd, which included parents of children with serious disabilities and medical conditions.
Ann Romney's visit to St. Petersburg was her first public appearance since she made a heartfelt, well-received speech Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Romney offered a personal story of her life and love for husband, Mitt, in support of his GOP nomination for president.
Wednesday morning, her remarks were just as anecdotal, with Romney revealing her own struggles with multple sclerosis, an incurable disease that attacks the nervous system.
"I know someting about physical therapy, and I know something about joy," Romney said, noting that she used horseback riding as physical therapy when diagnosed with MS at age 49. Her comments also revealed a comfort for public speaking that seemed to belie a more corporate public demeanor.
She told the crowd how "grateful" she was for her visit and repeated some sage advice she received from an 11-year-old patient moments before walking on stage: " 'Let your light shine," Seth Morano of Sarasota told Romney upon meeting her. "You're going to be great."
Her appearance at the RNC Tuesday and at the ribbon-cutting Wednesday showed a softer side of Mitt Romney and the GOP presidential campaign. A small number of GOP leaders attended the event, including U.S. Rep. Bill Young, Florida Reps. Jim Frishe and Rich Glorioso, and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.
While Ann Romney spoke in St. Petersburg Wednesday morning, her sons, Ben and Craig, campaigned in Palm Harbor, speaking to a breakfast crowd of Florida delegates.
The Romney family's candor at both events seemed to charm people. "I wish every day we could have a grand opening day at the playground," Seth declared when the speech ended and the children could play uninterrupted.
Benefits of Therapeutic Playground
Seth has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. His parents, Jennifer and David Morano, said that Seth will be using the slides and swings at the new playground for his physical therapy. Jennifer drives Seth from their Sarasota home to St. Petersburg for his physical therapy.
Allie Ribner, his physical therapist, said the children can improve motor skills and benefit from sensory stimulation at the outdoor playground. The playground – with its soft surfaces and cradled swings – also enables young people with disabilities to enjoy recreation with their siblings and other family members, which often is denied to them because of their limitations.
David Morano lifted his son from his wheelchair and carried him up the steps of a slide and placed the boy in the chute, as Seth squealed with joy. Seth's 9-year-old brother, Noah, played nearby.
"We're here for Seth. We're part of his world here," David said. "This will be a place for him to enjoy, to have fun."
Story Behind the Therapeutic Playground
The playground was developed though fundraising efforts and donations of credit union members. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the League of Southeastern Credit Unions and the National Journal Group partnered to develop the therapuetic playground "as a leave-behind project." CUNA has a history of developing projects that benefit communities where National Party conventions are held.