Gazebo Gazette

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has awarded a grant of $323,540 to The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at The University of Southern Miss through the USM Foundation.

The funds will be used to build a new playground on USM’s Gulf Park campus.

Once finished, the playground will serve as a much-needed outdoor therapy space for the children with complex disabilities who receive cost-free services from The Children’s Center, and as an inclusive play space for children in the Gulf Coast region both with and without developmental disabilities.

Currently, the Center’s Gulf Park location provides a wide range of therapies, including Listening and Spoken Language Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Audiology, and Behavioral Therapy, for 40 children in the southern six counties of the state, all at no cost to their families.

Through this grant, the Center will be able to expand the scope of these therapies through fully accessible outdoor play, using carefully chosen equipment and therapy tools that encourage motor and speech development, as well as social interaction with peers.

“The impact this new therapy playground will have on our families, as well as on families in the region, is hard to quantify,” said Sarah Myers, Director of The Children’s Center. “For our little ones, this is much more than a playground. We know, and research has shown, that play is therapy. This wheelchair and walker-accessible space has been designed with that in mind.

Added Myers: “One of our biggest goals at the Center is to tailor our therapy plan for each child, addressing all areas of their development, and preparing them for that day they transition to their local school district.

Without a doubt, the existence of this new playground will better allow us to do just that. It wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. We are so grateful for their partnership.”

Center students and families are understandably excited about the new space. “My son, Justus, would love the opportunity to play on the new playground, as learning through play is his favorite,” said Children’s Center parent, Amy DeFazio. “He has recently been exposed to monkey bars at a local playground and looks forward to figuring out how to adapt and overcome using his ‘lucky fin.’ “I know, as a mom, a playground is a safe place for him to wrestle through challenges while still having fun.”

The Children’s Center also plans to host play opportunities for children and families within the community, helping promote inclusion, and expanding the impact of this new space to include other families in the Gulf Coast region.

“The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is proud to partner with The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation to improve the overall health of students at The Children’s Center through fun and interactive therapeutic play, said Sheila B. Grogan, Foundation President. “Achieving healthy milestones throughout life is the Foundation’s goal for every child.”

The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at The University of Southern Mississippi is a non-profit that provides cost-free communicative and developmental transdisciplinary services to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers while educating, training and supporting families, university students and professionals.

For more information, visit

Founded in 1959, the USM Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to serving the University community by overseeing fundraising efforts to raise private support for scholarships and other academic needs at Southern Miss.

For more information on supporting Southern Miss, call the USM Foundation at 601.266.5210 or visit

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has a vision for a healthy Mississippi and provides targeted grants to fund initiatives and programs to improve the health and well-being of Mississippians.

Through its vision and mission, the Foundation is impacting Mississippi’s communities and taking a leadership role in setting the future course for healthy living among all Mississippians.

Visit to learn more about the Foundation or its initiatives and programs.