ROCK HILL — A year ago, Nicole Tepper came to see a field of red clay, heard about the vision for the land, and cried.
Tuesday, as she arrived to see it full of colorful playground equipment, and what will soon be green fields of play, she cried again.
That's what made Tuesday's donation an easy decision, and a meaningful one.
Carolina Panthers Charities made a $200,000 donation to Miracle Park, and Dave and Nicole Tepper followed with another $500,000, to help finish the state-of-the-art and inclusive recreational facility for those with special needs.
"About a year ago, I met Riley Fields (the Panthers' director of community relations) at this exact location, and it was all dirt," Nicole Tepper said. "And they presented this vision of Miracle Park. I couldn't really see it, but I knew the concept was incredible.
"Waking up today, thinking about that day, leading up to today, was unbelievable."
The grand opening of the 15-acre park is scheduled for Aug. 21. The facility will include baseball and softball fields, along with multi-purpose fields for a variety of sports including flag football and soccer. The facility also features an inclusive playground, and a retail space which will employ people with a variety of disabilities.
But mostly, it looks fun.
Kylie Carroll, the executive director of Miracle Park, knows that it can be a triumph at a community and personal level. As the mother of a child with Down's Syndrome (and 8-year-old Kidus was on the front row Tuesday), the barriers are real. It's not just about having equipment that is accessible to all, but to have the ability to schedule therapy for the facility, and to have events there, make it the kind of place where the entire family can enjoy.
"As a mom, I know how excluded people can be," she said. "The vision for this park is to be a place where everyone belongs. It's not just about what people with special needs do here, but it creates a place where it's normal for everyone to be able to interact.
"This community has been known as a sports town, but it hasn't always been accessible. Now it can be."
That's the reason Landen Black had such a smile on his face as he talked to the crowd, saying he most looked forward to "playing with my friends, and making new ones."
And as the Teppers presented the two checks to help fund the park, he looked up from his wheelchair, eyes beaming, and said: "I love y'all."
Josh Myers had a similar expression of gratitude. A gold medal weightlifter in the Special Olympics, Myers called the facility "an awesome place."
"It's not only for kids with disabilities, it's for everyone without disabilities too," Myers said. "This place shows you that you can do just about anything."
For the Teppers, the cause is also a personal one. Nicole Tepper talked about growing up next door to a family with a special needs child, and having partnered with Best Buddies in the past made her want to continue that work here.
The park is also just a few miles from where the Panthers are building their new practice facility, and embedding in the community was another factor, as Nicole Tepper described their family as: "Here for the long haul."
"I'm excited to see the kids run the bases and the smiles and eating a hot dog, and seeing us focus on them, and having them be the stars, and feeling like they could do what everyone else can do," she said. "I was excited about it because I saw people working and things happening, and when I pulled up today, and really saw the colorful swings, ... it was emotional.
"What's important to me is making these kids feel that they could do everything that anyone else can do. And when they're here, they will smile, they will feel accomplished, and strong, and confident, and hopefully this is just one step to get them out in the world. That's what this is all about, and to show them love."
Dave and Nicole Tepper and Panthers Charities will together donate $700k to the Rock Hill project dedicated to serving a community of all abilities and needs.