Jermaine Bishop, Jr. holds his diploma while Cassie Hawkins, a staff member at UCP, pushed his wheelchair at UCP's Best Friends Program Graduation held on Wednesday, June 27, in Chestnut Hill. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

“Somewhere over the rainbow

skies are blue and the dreams that

you dare to dream

really do come true.

If happy little bluebirds fly

above the rainbow, why

oh why can’t I?”

Sang the 33 graduates at the United Cerebral Palsy’s preschool program in Chestnut Hill on June 27. The graduates all wore brightly colored, tie-die T-shirts as they sang songs to an audience of 150 people, many of whom were parents, family members and staff.

Jodi Miscannon, director of child services at UCP, began the program by thanking parents and teachers for all their hard work. The students “wowed” the audience by singing several songs and waving to the audience. Then came the moment everyone was waiting for: One by one, each graduate came up to receive his or her graduation certificate from Ginger McHugh, a teacher at UCP.

UCP strives to help children and adults with cerebral palsy and other disabilities to live “life without limits” by becoming fully integrated in society.

Steve Sheridan, CEO of UCP, explained the school’s Best Friends Program.

“UCP’s Best Friends Program is a preschool inclusive program that includes children with disabilities that learn and play side-by-side with typical children,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan said the renovations to the UCP Widener Memorial Playground included covering 9,000 square feet with soft service flooring and installing a wheelchair accessible multi-level play station that enables “children with disabilities to experience, be a part and enjoy the same activities that’typical’ children enjoy.”

Charlie McHugh, of Glenside, a UCP preschool parent, said his son Owen “loves it.”

“I am sad that he is graduating from the program,” he said. “I am happy for the experiences he has had here.”

Carlos Lizardi Jr., whose son Antonio is disabled, described the graduation ceremony as “beautiful.”

“As a parent [of a disabled child] you are faced with so many challenges,” Lizardi said. “It’s hard to hold back the emotions you feel.”

He added that it was a relief to know that Antonio can swing and play and be a kid.

Lizardi doesn’t have to worry about his son falling on the playground, thanks to the recent renovations at the Widener Memorial Playground.

The playground, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, was in desperate need of repair.

Because of the generosity of countless people, Widener got a face-lift to the tune of about $125,000.

It a small price to pay to see the children in UCP’s Best Friends Program laugh and play together without the worry of someone getting hurt.

To Jermaine Bishop’s father, Jermaine Sr., seeing his son laugh and giggle as he came down the ramp in his wheelchair was priceless.