Solas makes imPOSSIBLE happen

Posted 6/23/09

Greg Solas is a glass half-full kind of guy. After an industrial accident in 1986 left him confined to a wheelchair, he gained a new lease on life.

“I didn’t think my life was over –it just began,” said the former Warwick …

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Solas makes imPOSSIBLE happen


Greg Solas is a glass half-full kind of guy. After an industrial accident in 1986 left him confined to a wheelchair, he gained a new lease on life.

“I didn’t think my life was over –it just began,” said the former Warwick resident, who lived here in the early ’90s. “You’re only on this earth for so long so you have to make the most of it.”

Making the most of it turned into a second career. The former ironworker and his wife Linda became advocates for people with disabilities and have been instrumental in creating access and improved facilities in schools, courthouses and movie theaters. His most recent victory, however, came at an unlikely time and place and brought the former resident now living in East Greenwich back to his one-time home.

While at a Boston Celtics basketball game, Solas headed toward a handicap seating section of T.D. Banknorth Garden when he stopped in his tracks –the section was filled, not with wheelchairs, but with members of the press.

With the help of the Massachusetts Office on Disability and Access Specialist Naomi Goldberg, he was awarded a settlement of $5,000 out of his case against the arena for not reserving the handicap-accessible seating. Solas says the case wasn’t about him, though, nor was it about the money –it was about ensuring the seats would be available for the people who needed it down the line.

“I didn’t fully realize what the benefit would be –how rewarding it could be,” he said.

Now, whether he’s at the Garden or watching the games on television, when he sees the section cleared for individuals with disabilities, he feels that sense of accomplishment all over again.

“For 5,000 bucks, what a bargain,” he said, laughing.

That’s when the impossible came true for Diane Penza.

Penza is the owner and executive director of the imPOSSIBLE Dream, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of chronically ill children that is perhaps best known for its handicap-accessible playground. The imPOSSIBLE Dream playground was the brainchild of Penza’s father and will celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer. Because of the surprisingly high operating costs of the playground –about $2,000 per month –and a decline in donations due to a poor economy, Penza was faced with cutting back on days of operation.

“The economy in Rhode Island is terrible. Our playground is open Wednesday through Saturday this year, which is quite a change from last year,” she said.

In the past, the facilities have been open to the public seven days a week so the choice was a difficult one.

“It was a painful decision. I just looked at the money and said it’s not here,” Penza said.

With $5,000 suddenly at his disposal, Solas went on the hunt for a worthy cause. He thought back to his days in Warwick and decided to find out more information by calling Penza. Speaking with her about the facility, it can be difficult not to get caught up. She is enthusiastic, to say the least, and passionate about the work they do.

“My favorite subject is the imPOSSIBLE dream playground,” she said. “His ear was probably aching by the end of the conversation.”

Solas then decided to visit the playground to see for himself and after that, he knew he had found a purpose for his money.

“I think it was the type of thing that was meant to be,” he said. “When I heard about the history of that place I said wow, what devotion. They’re a smaller organization and don’t always get the recognition but I’m just glad I was able to help out.”

In addition to his personal interest in facilities and organizations that respect the needs of individuals with disabilities, Solas said he is touched by their work with children in particular.

“I think when you become a father you become a father to all kids,” said the father of three grown children –Gregory Jr., Derek and Nicole.

Penza says she is blown away by Solas’ generosity, which, starting July 4, will enable the playground to go back to being open seven days a week. She plans to give him a proper thank you on Thursday when the imPOSSIBLE Dream hosts its annual “Kids Night Out” event, complete with games, refreshments and prizes. Solas will be a special guest for the event, which is open to the public for a nominal fee of $5 per child from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The imPOSSIBLE Dream facility sees hundreds of guests every year and, Penza says, is more than a playground because it gives children with disabilities the chance to feel normal.

“They can socialize with other children, they get to just be one of the gang,” she said. “The playground is an incredible success. It’s serving purposes that we never dreamed of.”

Solas is just happy to help.

“I looked at this as an opportunity to help people,” he said. “If I could’ve given them a hundred grand I would’ve.”


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