RANCHO SANTA FE — It’s been more than a year since a local family in Rancho Santa Fe modernized play forts for kids. Ed Hanley and his daughter, Luciana, had instincts their product would be well-received, but they had no idea it would touch children with a variety of needs.
With an ordinary household fan, and in just a matter of seconds, the fabric fort expands to 71 inches in diameter and is roughly 50 inches tall. And there’s plenty of room for five people.
The AirFort experience is different for everyone. Many describe it as whimsical.
What Ed and Luciana Hanley didn’t expect was how AirFort would be a welcoming toy to children experiencing challenges.
Luciana Hanley, 24, saw this firsthand. She was babysitting a little boy a couple of years ago who was 8 years old at the time. He was undergoing treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer — he’s doing well now, she reports.
“When I first got there, for days he wouldn’t acknowledge me,” she said. “He wouldn’t talk to me until one day I told him I had this really cool fort called AirFort.”
It was around the time of their product’s prelaunch. “So, I brought over the camouflage AirFort,” she added. “And from that day on, we were best buds.”
Luciana Hanley shared that AirFort turned into the boy’s little private, safe space — away from needles and doctors. AirFort was his time.
When his tutor came over, the boy insisted that lessons take place inside the AirFort.
“It became his world,” Luciana Hanley said. “Our mission kind of evolved in that at some point, we would like to start giving back to kids with cancer just because we know how much of a positive impact the AirFort has on them — they can create this special little world away from the horribleness going on.”
One day, Ed Hanley said an AirFort customer contacted him and said his autistic son was a different child inside the modernized fort.
“It created a safe zone for him,” Ed Hanley said. “The hum of the fan is a steady sound, and it blocks out all the external stimuli like lighting, sound and visual things. His boy could focus and relax.”
The father went on to tell Ed Hanley how his son’s mother was well-connected in the autism community. Ed and Luciana Hanley were then referred to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism, the Cleveland School District and the PEP Prentiss, also located in Ohio. According to the father-daughter team, several AirForts were sent to the school district.
“PEP Prentiss is using eight of them in their classrooms,” Ed Hanley said.
He said another parent with an autistic daughter, who is one of five children in her family living in the Stockton area, mentioned the same AirFort benefits. The girl received the fort as a gift.
Ed Hanley was quick to point out how with the limited success AirFort is having, they will give back to the community a little at a time, and as much as they can.
“We want to help, so if we can be successful enough, we can help more children and that’s kind of where we are right now,” Ed Hanley said.
For Luciana, her AirFort mission is right on track. New colors are on the way as well as the ability to join two forts together with the use of one fan.
“It’s about this imaginative fort that lets kids experience their different creativity and their imaginations can go wild — they can create something not only that they love, but their parents love,” Luciana Hanley said. “It’s a toy that the whole family has fun with.”