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Father Sees Kids Shy Away from His Daughter, Builds Huge Theme Park to Give Her a Better Life

Salwa Nadeem
Jun 08, 2022
11:00 P.M.
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During a family holiday, a father was heartbroken to see other kids shying away from his daughter, shattering her confidence. Soon after that day, he decided to build a $35 million theme park for his little girl where she wouldn't feel uncomfortable.

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Have other kids ever made you feel uncomfortable as a child? It's not uncommon for kids to isolate a child they think doesn't fit in their social circle and bully them. Kids tend to bully the underconfident child around them.

For parents, it gets tough to watch their child being bullied. They immediately raise their voices against the bully to ensure their child doesn't feel threatened anymore. The man in today's story felt similar emotions watching his daughter feel uncomfortable around kids but came up with an unusual idea to deal with the bullies.

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THE LIFE-CHANGING VACATION

While Gordon Hartman was enjoying his vacation with his family, he felt heartbroken seeing other children leave when his then 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, entered the pool. The children quickly dispersed when Morgan tried to talk to them.

The little girl didn't know why the kids didn't want to be around her, but Hartman understood everything. He felt terrible watching Morgan feel uncomfortable in a public space.

Gordon Hartman. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Evening News

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Morgan was a child with special needs. She was on the autism spectrum, and her brain functioned like a five-year-old's mind. Hartman felt other children shied away from Morgan because they didn't know how to communicate with a girl experiencing a cognitive delay.

THE BIG DECISION

After noticing how other children interacted with his daughter, Hartman started looking for public spaces that catered to children with special needs. Soon, he realized such places didn't exist.

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If Hartman wanted his daughter to enjoy swimming in a pool without feeling underconfident around other children, he felt he had to build such a place himself.

Hartman held multiple meetings with engineers, doctors, and therapists to turn his dream into reality.

Besides being an extraordinary father, Hartman was also someone who cared for people with disabilities. Since he understood their pain, he decided to help them by selling off his homebuilding business in 2005.

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With the money he received, he established "The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation" to help people with disabilities. After the disappointing swimming pool incident, Hartman also decided to build a theme park where people wouldn't judge Morgan and make her feel uncomfortable. He said:

"We wanted a theme park where everyone could do everything, where people with and without special needs could play."

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CONSTRUCTION BEGINS

Hartman held multiple meetings with engineers, doctors, and therapists to turn his dream into reality. He even consulted parents of children with disabilities to know what they expected from the theme park.

After the planning phase was over, Hartman instructed his team to build the theme park on an unused 25-acre land in San Antonio, Texas. The construction began in 2007 and was completed by 2010. Hartman stated:

"It’s about not letting anyone feel different. That’s what we tried to do with this park."

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COUNTLESS FACILITIES

Hartman welcomed everyone to his theme park, Morgan's Wonderland. He didn't limit the park to disabled people because he wanted children like his daughter to interact freely with other kids.

The theme park made the Ferris wheel accessible to disabled people and had a fully-accessible mini train and an adventure playground. People with disabilities didn't have to worry about not having access to rides because Hartman ensured every ride facilitated them.

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Moreover, Morgan's Wonderland offered wristbands to its visitors, so it was easy to track them. It made life easy for parents of children with autism who fear losing their children in crowded spaces.

A NEW ADDITION

The footfall showed Morgan's Wonderland was a huge success. More than a million people have visited the San Antonio- based theme park since its opening and have shared positive reviews about it.

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In 2017, Hartman opened gates to another portion of the theme park called Morgan's Inspiration Island, costing $17 million. It featured a water park for disabled children as well as other kids.

Looking at the number of visitors might make people think Hartman made a lot of money through the parks, but the truth is that they are operating at a loss. According to Hartman, the parks are losing a million dollars per year.

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Morgan's Wonderland and Morgan's Inspiration Island heavily depended on donations and fundraisers. The donors contributed to its operations, allowing disabled children to access rides and water park facilities that they couldn't enjoy otherwise.

MORGAN'S REACTION

When Hartman took Morgan to the specially designed carousel in the theme park, the girl was confused looking at the animals go up and down. Hartman recalled:

"First she would stand near it, then she'd get on an animal, but we wouldn't start it. It was a slow process, but now she loves going on it."

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A BLESSING

When the world didn't care about children with disabilities and special needs, Hartman stood up and built accessible parks for them. He sympathized with those children because his daughter also faced similar challenges being on the autism spectrum.

For parents of disabled kids, Morgan's Wonderland and Inspiration Island were nothing less than a blessing. They considered Hartman to be their children's savior because he took a stand for them and provided a place where they could enjoy themselves like other children.

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One day, a man came to Hartman in the water park and started crying while holding his hand. When Hartman asked what happened, the man said his child had never played in the water before because of his special needs. Only Morgan's Inspiration Island allowed him to enjoy his time in the pool.

Another couple approached Hartman and shared how grateful they were to him for building Morgan's Inspiration Island. The couple said:

"So many people told us that this would be an opportunity for our daughter to finally have a place where she wouldn’t have to sit on the sidelines, she could actually do everything."

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Hartman was relieved to know that people appreciated his sincere efforts. The reviews given by the visitors made him believe that he had succeeded in his mission to provide a public space where disabled children could have the time of their lives.

NO MORE PARKS

After people discovered how good the parks were, they requested Hartman to open more parks in other areas. They wanted similar parks near their houses so they didn't have to travel all the way to Morgan's Wonderland. Hartman refused their requests and said:

"I know there are a lot of different organisations trying to build something like Morgan's Wonderland elsewhere and we'll continue to work with them."

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Hartman wanted to focus on education for teenagers with special needs in San Antonio. That didn't mean he stopped taking Morgan to the parks. Morgan, a grown-up girl, was more of a celebrity during her visits because other people wanted to click photos and chat with her. Hartman said:

"Morgan knows the park is named after her, but I don't think she understands the magnitude of what it represents and how it's changed lives."

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What would you do if you were in Hartman's shoes? Would you also build a theme park for your daughter as he did? Or would you use the money to do something else for disabled children?

Click here to read another story about a cheerleader with Down syndrome who was bullied during a basketball match until the players decided to stand up for her.

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