SULLIVAN, Ill., (WCIA) — Toes in the water, feet in the sand. It’s that time of year many people start loading up their beach bags and catching some sun. But, it’s not that easy for everyone.
Sullivan Beach in Moultrie County is doing something about it and increasing accessibility.
“AJ loves the water and if he can’t get to it he can’t enjoy it,” Nick Houser, AJ Loethscher’s great-grandpa, said.
Houser wanted to make a change so AJ could make a bigger splash. In 2021, Houser and Andrew Loethscher, his grandson, started talking about a solution. They couldn’t get AJ down to the water because of the sand and reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers.
AJ has been in a wheelchair and non-verbal his whole life.
“He’s a blessing. He’s a happy little guy,” Houser said.
In the past, Loethscher would carry his son across the sand to the water. That’s gotten harder.
“At this point, he’s even heavier we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Loethscher said.
After working with the Army Corps of Engineers, their idea of an accessible mat came to life.
“Just overwhelmed with the idea that this is gonna be so much use out of this mat not just for AJ but for everybody,” Houser said.
Like 9-year-old Cooper Phillips. He was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when he was two years old.
“This means that accessibility is gonna be better,” Phillips said.
Philip Manhart with the Army Corps of Engineers said there hasn’t been a mat like this one on Sullivan Beach before.
“This mat actually rolls out,” Manhart said. “It’s a woven material that makes it real easy to walk across or to roll a wheelchair or any kind of cart across.”
That’s all Loethscher can ask for.
“It’s great to see him smiling and laughing and just splashing around. It’s one of his favorite things to do,” he said.
And all Phillips has hoped for.
“I’m just excited because this means accessibility is going to skyrocket to cloud 9,” he described.
Sullivan Beach is open and ready for visitors over Memorial Day Weekend. Both families are ready to take advantage of everything the beach has to offer, now that it’s a little bit easier to enjoy.