liz matteos dream tournament of roses parade lions club float
Liz and Matteo, above

Matteo’s Dream Playground will be a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade! This L&A all-inclusive playground is located in Concord, CA and has served as inspiration to many other communities in choosing to bring all-inclusive play to their own areas. L&A is honored to be a part of this very special project and looks forward to seeing the completed float. We have fond memories of working with Liz and Rene, as well as the many volunteers that turned out for the build.

To learn more please visit the Lion’s Club blog and be sure to watch for the float on New Year’s Day!

René Henderson and Liz Lamach of Concord, Calif., have a reason to smile during a difficult time. An inclusive playground for children of all abilities built in honor of their deceased son, Matteo, will be a float design in the 125th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade. “Since Matteo’s passing, it’s been kind of bleak and dark,” Lamach said of her son who passed away in 2011.  “This is a ray of light. It kind of opened a door that has been closed for a while.” Matteo was blind and suffered from cerebral palsy. He was the inspiration for a “Matteo’s Dream,” a city playground built for disabled children in 2007.


Lamach wanted a playground where Matteo could play shoulder to shoulder with other children. She enlisted design firm Leather & Associates and local Lions clubs to make the dream a reality. “I insisted on rubber surfaces, which was unheard of because most designs had gravel or sand,” said Lamach of her quest to design a practical park. “I was warned of the cost and that it would delay the opening. But I told them I would rather wait a year and be able to do it right.” The playground made headlines in the Bay area for being one of the first inclusive parks in the region and also because the community built it in eight days.

“This would not have happened without the Lions,” said Lamach. “There would be no Matteo’s Dream without the Lions club.”

Lions raised $750,000 to help build the park. More than 3,000 volunteers erected the 12,000 square-foot playground. Many of the volunteers were members of the 45 Lions clubs in the region. “It was like a barn raising, when the whole community would come together to help a neighbor build a barn,” said Concord Director of Parks and Recreation Joan Carrico.  “It is very rare in that you get to see something like that in your career. It was just very special.”

Carrico considers Matteo’s Dream to be a destination park and said people still occasionally call or write to her office about how much they appreciate a park where kids of all abilities can play. In fact, according to Carrico, the park is so popular the most frequent calls they receive are to reserve spots for parties. “I have to remind people that it’s a public park and it’s first come, first served,” she said.

Inclusive parks catering to children of all abilities are not common. But Matteo’s Dream is an example of the growing need for more inclusive parks. “It was definitely a new way to experience play together,” said Amanda Bakker, who drove two hours to visit Matteo’s dream with her family so her 3-year-old daughter, Tatum, could play with her siblings.

Bakker, who will be cutting the ribbon on an inclusive park in her city this week, took 20 family members to Matteo’s Dream.

“All of the kids were so exhausted,” she said of their first trip in February, which was filmed to help them raise money for their park. “They were emotionally and physically spent.”

The video shows Tatum laughing and moving around the park on her wheelchair while playing with her siblings and cousins. The smile on her face alone, shows the importance of inclusive parks. Bakker was excited to hear Matteo’s Dream would be honored as a float in the Rose Parade. Lions Clubs International President Barry Palmer has challenged Lions all over the world to dream big and take on projects that turn the impossible into possible. Lions felt Matteo’s Dream was a perfect fit for this year’s Tournament of Roses theme – Dreams Come True. “It’s just an incredible honor,” said Matteo’s mother Rene Henderson who was laughing and crying at the same time when she found out about the float with Lamach. “I was touched more than I can say.”

2014 Tournament of Roses Parade Lion’s Club Float:

lions club 2014 tournament of roses parade float

Next week, the Lions Clubs will be hosting a maintenance and clean-up day for Matteo’s Dream. Lamach and Henderson will be there as both have joined the Concord Lions Club. Both Lamach and Henderson will be traveling to Los Angeles a few days after Christmas. On December 30, they will join with other Lions Clubs to help decorate the float. On Jan. 1, 2014, they will ride the float together wearing shirts with Matteo’s photo on it.

Lions Clubs International, based in Oak Brook, Ill., is the largest service organization in the world with over 1.35 million members in more than 200 countries. They provide worldwide eyesight conservation, and work to eliminate preventable blindness and to aid the blind and visually impaired.