Community Spotlight - Morgan's Wonderland
Morgan’s Wonderland is a nonprofit, 25-acre theme park that was designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. It first opened in 2010, having been developed by Gordon and Maggie Hartman, whose daughter Morgan deals with cognitive and physical challenges and inspired the creation of the park, and is the first theme park of its kind in the world. Since then, Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed approximately 1.8 million guests from all 50 states and 76 other countries through park visitation and special events. This has included a great many international leaders from around the world, participating in the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
The staff of Morgan’s Wonderland has graciously welcomed almost a dozen of our delegations to tour the park and learn about their wide-ranging services and activities. More than just a theme park, Morgan’s Wonderland includes Morgan’s Inspiration Island, and Morgan’s Wonderland Sports. It is also home of STRAPS (South Texas Regional Adaptive and Paralympic Sports), which provides sports competition for athletes with disabilities and special needs. The Morgan’s Wonderland Family will soon expand with the addition of Morgan’s Wonderland Camp and The Multi-Assistance Center at Morgan’s Wonderland.
Visitors greatly value the opportunity to have discussions with their staff about the many considerations required to create a park accessible and safe for children with disabilities, as well as the programs designed to enhance their experience at the facility. They also enjoy exploring the park and love participating in the activities it has to offer.
In 2017, an IVLP program on “Integration and Advocacy for Socially Vulnerable Populations” composed of visitors from Ukraine, which focused largely on disability issues, visited Morgan’s Wonderland. They were impressed with the mission and devotion of the staff at the park, especially how their leadership recognized that families with special-needs members have great demands on both their financial and emotional resources, leading to their commitment to admit anyone with a special need free of charge.
One of the participants, Ms. Svetlana Patra, a journalist who regularly writes about people with special needs, reflected on this inspirational visit, capturing the value the park brings to so many: “The most striking part of staying in San Antonio was the visit to the magical park at Morgan’s Wonderland. It was nice to see how children can play, regardless of whether the child has a disability or not. It was very inspiring learning from the example of Gordon Hartman, who helped not only his daughter Morgan, but also other children with disabilities, by opening the park. This park really helps children and young people with disabilities participate at the level of their healthy peers in activities such as swinging, riding a carousel, and having all kinds of fun in the water. And all this is accessible and safe for people with disabilities. I have to admit that when I saw the swings and carousels at the park I panicked, as my disease of brittle bones causes a fear of falling and makes it psychologically hard for me to climb stairs or raise my arms at any height. And yet, I still decided to try the swing. And I liked it! I rocked on a swing for the first time in my life! How strange that to ride a swing, I had to cross a good half of the earth. But I was not just entertained, I was able to learn about a successful US experience and bring this back to Ukraine. To make education, play, work, and life accessible to all!”
Jessica Lizardo, General Manager, shared with us her experience meeting with our many international visitors: “I always love hearing the different feedback from the different cultures that I tour with. Everyone who I've interacted with is so sweet, and excited to see what we have to offer.”
It is gratifying to learn just how impactful the person-to-person interactions fostered by programs such as the IVLP have been in offering unique opportunities for our local community to connect with the rest of the world. The connections built through these programs resonate on both sides and continue to normalize international exchange across the globe. We are incredibly grateful to the Morgan’s Wonderland team for their willingness to engage with our visitors through such meaningful experiences. We thank you for your continued support of our exchange programs and we look forward to working with you again soon!