Lion’s Float Shows Matteo’s Dream Come True in Tournament of Roses Parade

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.

Playground Renovation in Canada | St Andrews Creative Playground

st andrews playground renovation

St. Andrews Creative Playground was built in 1993 solely through the efforts of the community’s 1,500 residents. The project resulted in what is one of Canada’s most impressive play structures–but more than that, it promoted a sense of ownership and pride which has had lasting benefits for the community. This unique and creative playground has become a part of St. Andrews heritage–children from all over the world come to play on it. After 20 years of cheerful and imaginative play, it was decided that a playground renovation was needed to keep the playground safe and enduring for many more years to come. We are proud and humbled to have been chosen once again to design and lead the efforts to restore St. Andrews Creative Playground to its former glory!

When St. Andrews Creative Playground was built 20 years ago, over 10,000 volunteer hours were logged with 400 volunteers onsite at any given time over the course of 5 days to complete the project. In order to conform to current safety standards and guidelines, and to save costs, a complete renovation rather than a rebuild was chosen as the best course of action. Again, the volunteer efforts of the community would be utilized to raise funds for and to restore the playground. During St. Andrews playground renovation and restoration in September 2013, volunteers resurfaced the wooden playground structure, replaced existing slides, and repaired broken equipment. Wooden decking and hand railings were replaced with composite material to prolong the life of the structure, eliminate splinters, and meet new safety regulations. The tot lot now has a poured rubberized surfacing making the area more accessible. The structure is now a mix of wood and recycled composite material. The creative original pieces of the structure have been preserved, while maintaining the original design created over 20 years ago.

St. Andrews in New Brunswick, Canada is a great example of how a community can come together to achieve a common goal of providing for its children through play. Take a moment to flip through the completed playground renovation photos below and to see how St. Andrews Creative Playground will make a difference in their community for many years to come. Local talented artists provided beautiful artwork in the playground. As always, if you are interested in learning more about renovating your playground or want to build a custom playground in your own community, contact us and we’ll be happy to answer your questions and provide you with more information, including our newly updated playground brochure.

Photo Credit(s): Debra Keary-Hamilton and St. Andrews Creative Playground

Ready, Set, BUILD! Tatum’s Garden All-Inclusive Playground in Salinas, CA

Tatum's Garden All-Inclusive Playground Future Home Bakker Family


Shawn and Amanda Bakker were on a family trip in Idaho when their vision of an all-inclusive playground began to take shape. After visiting Brooklyn’s Playground in Pocatello, Idaho with their son and two daughters, including Tatum who has spina bifida, the Bakkers felt inspired to bring an all-inclusive playground to their own community in Salinas, California. When they arrived back home the Bakkers began researching options and rallying their community to help design and build a one-of-a-kind playground where all children regardless of ability can come together, interact, be included and grow, through the gift of play. We are so proud and feel so honored to be to be working with the Bakkers and Salinas community in designing and building Tatum’s Garden.

The Bakkers also visited Matteo’s Playground in Concord, CA, another all-inclusive playground designed by Leathers and Associates, to make this video about Tatum’s Garden (email subscribers may need to view full post on our website to play video):


Tatum’s Garden will have a vegetable garden theme reflecting the heritage of Salinas Valley and many local artists are involved in creating artwork. An example of this is a beautiful mosaic entry wall at the playground. Kids will have fun exploring the unique features including a giant broccoli tree house which is the focal point of this playground’s design. There will be a barn and stable along with a produce stand that reflect those that you find in Salinas, along with a celery slide, grapevine climber, spinach spinner, asparagus climbers and much, much more! Children will also be able to take a break in “safe zones” created within the park, and kids will be delighted by the sensory garden.

L&A designer Jim Houghton explains, “We used to say, ‘fully accessible’ to describe this kind of playground. Now, we are doing more than just getting children to something. We design an all-inclusive, fully accessible playground, so all children have opportunities to interact and play cooperatively at all levels.”


The 20,000 square foot all-inclusive playground will be built September 10-15 with a pre-build scheduled for September 6-8. It will be built with 94 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. To learn how to donate your time or money towards building Tatum’s Garden, please visit their website or Facebook page. You can also view our portfolio of all-inclusive playgrounds and contact us to learn how to bring a custom playground to your own community.

Tatums Garden All-Inclusive Playground Design Salinas CA

All Inclusive Playground in Frisco TX Makes a Difference in the Community | Hope Park

Hope Park Grand Opening All Inclusive Playground

Hope Park is continually receiving accolades on its design and the play opportunities it offers to children of ALL abilities. We have heard many wonderful and inspirational stories about siblings, family members, peers, and friends of different abilities being able to play shoulder-to-shoulder sometimes for the very first time! We have viewed this happening first-hand as we’ve quietly made our rounds to Hope Park in the weeks since it was built by the community in April 2013. Hope Park, located in Frisco, Texas (a northern suburb of Dallas) has made an amazing difference in the lives and perspective of their community.

A few weeks ago Leathers and Associates was forwarded the following email from Sean who was one of more than 5,000 volunteers who showed up during the ten days it took to build Hope Park:

Subject: Thoughts on Hope Park
Good morning,

My family and I attended the opening on Saturday and had a great time. However, it wasn’t until Sunday, when my son and I went back, that I feel like I really had a chance to experience the park.

It took me about 20 minutes to figure out what part of the park I had built since it had been early in construction, but I did and showed my
son. For an 11 year old, I think he was mildly impressed! The parking lot was nearly full mid-day Sunday, but both the Friendship and Hope
playgrounds were not too crowded. We really had a chance to see and try everything. I’ve never seen anything like it, and more than a few
overheard comments shared that opinion.

I heard everything from a wife describing to her husband the section she helped to build a few weeks earlier, to a middle-aged dad talking
with the excitement of a 5 year old that, “they have the coolest climbing wall!!!” All I kept hearing was, “This is incredible. . .this is so cool. . .” The thing I heard the most though were kids begging their parents to stay longer.

It was great to see elements in the park that I either have never seen, or haven’t seen in many years. No one seems to put merry go rounds in anymore. My son rode and pushed until he was exhausted yesterday. One of the larger swing features was perfect for my son as he is not very coordinated on a regular swing. He is autistic, but both elements encouraged him to socialize and work with others, which was fantastic.

I really just wanted to say thank you. Something like this doesn’t come without a vision and a lot of determination and hard work. All I can really say beyond that is INCREDIBLE.


Sean Sides

We can’t thank Sean enough for his email about his trip to Hope Park with his son. Sean’s experience is why we believe in all inclusive playgrounds so much! Our design team considers play components that will challenge and accommodate typically developing children, as well as children with autism, hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other physical and developmental needs. If you would like to learn more about how to bring an all inclusive playground to your community we are honored to be of assistance! Just contact us and we’ll be in touch with you shortly.

Hope Park is located at 8000 McKinney Road, Frisco, TX 75034 adjacent to Friendship Park which was also designed by L&A and underwent a renovation during the same time Hope Park was being built. These playgrounds offer over 20,000 square feet of play opportunities. Click here to learn more about Hope Park and see pictures of these exciting new playgrounds in the DFW metroplex.

Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to our blog to receive an email when we update our website/blog with new information!

Playground Renovations Make a Quality Difference

playground renovations before and after for Discovery Playground in Tarpon Springs Florida

Caring for your playground properly means that children will be playing on it for 30 years or more! As with all playgrounds, when your playground begins to show age, an inspection and/or audit service will many times result in renovations, retrofits, accessibility upgrades, and additions. Discovery Playground, a popular park located in Tarpon Springs, Florida, completed a renovation on their playground this summer which resulted in over $100,000 in improvements. The updated play structure now boasts modern recycled plastic lumber on all contact surfaces and added accessible features for children of all abilities.

Here are a few selected images of the renovations made to Discovery Playground this summer:

L&A has extensive experience working with communities all across the United States in renovating their existing playgrounds. Many communities take this opportunity to increase visibility and add accessible all-inclusive play components. We also just completed playground renovations in Jacksonville, Florida. Additional renovation projects planned for this fall include St. Andrews, New Brunswick and Elk Grove, CA, as well as, working with Antioch, CA to rebuild their tot lot.

Many communities that built a Leathers playground 20-25 years ago are asking us to design them a new, modern playground! We refer to these projects as “Generation 2″ playgrounds. We are fortunate enough to have four of these projects planning builds for this fall: Maquoketa, IA; Fort Pierce, FL; Edwardsville, IL; and Clewiston, FL. Our designs continually evolve over the years and we always strive to make our playgrounds more maintenance friendly.

If you are interested in learning more about inspections, audits, renovations or replacing your aging playground with a G2 project, contact us to learn more about the various options we have available. Today’s L&A playgrounds are environmentally and maintenance friendly!

Bringing Hope to Special Needs Children | Hope Park in Frisco, Texas

 Hope Park All Inclusive Playground Frisco, TexasHope Park – All Inclusive Playground

Imagine an all inclusive playground built to suit the needs of all children, at any age, with a focused consideration for children with special needs–a universal play adventure that brings children together and helps them build self-confidence, make friends, and play as equals. That’s exactly what Jenni Jensen set out to do after grappling with the fact that there simply weren’t many play opportunities for her daughter, Nora, who is diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Residing in Frisco, Texas, Jenni discovered a wealth of resources and other citizens who were ready and willing to help her dream become a reality. Rene Sinclair and Shannon Swarbrick joined Jenni by teaming up to spearhead bringing an all-inclusive playground to Frisco! Our design firm, Leathers & Associates, is proud to have been chosen as the design firm for Hope Park!

Hope Park is the result of careful planning and considerationHope Park Grand Opening 14 for children with a wide variety of special needs. The 15,000 square foot all inclusive playground is designed using sensory-rich play components and accessible structures and features such as wheelchair accessible ramps, rubberized surfacing, Soundplay accessible instruments, a roller slide, and specially designed swings. The hope is children of all abilities will be able to play alongside their peers and with their parents in a safe, yet rewarding, environment. Be sure to read the book, One Park for All, by local author and illustrator Kristan Olfers and Karen Dodson which reached readership all the way in Japan. All proceeds from the sale of this book went to funding the all-inclusive playground at Hope Park.

Here’s what visitors and parents are saying about Hope Park:

“My favorite thing at Hope Park is hearing my 3 year old niece hit the bongo drums while screaming ‘Aunt Janet, thank you, thank you, thank you for building this park!” – Janet K.

My favorite thing about Hope Park is the covered picnic area where you can see both old and new park areas.” – Mandy R.

“The specially designed slides for the hearing impaired [is my favorite thing]. I think that was a brilliant and extremely thoughtful add to what is already an amazing place to learn and play. I wish I’d have had exposure to such a place as a child. I’ve lived my life not truly understanding the simple things I am so fortunate to have. The awareness my niece Nora and this park have brought to so many people is life changing!!!” – Jana L.

“I love how everything is open enough for the parents to go through with the kids.” – Jill M.

We pride ourselves in creating unique and innovative play spaces that are imagined by children and built by community–and Hope Park is no exception! Hope Park’s community build took place over the course of 10 days, April 5-14, 2013, and they held their Grand Opening celebration a little less than a month later on  May 11th. Friendship Park, also a Leathers playground, was updated and renovated during this time and is directly adjacent to Hope Park. We want to give a big shout out to all those that planned, organized, and labored to make Hope Park a reality. Carrie Moore, project manager from Leathers, along with Marc Leathers, owner, Kyle Cundy, Bill Hugill, Justin Fowler, Larry Mattingly, and Allie Van Wagoner (all from Leathers) were all on hand to assist with the build. View the gallery below on our website for images from the Grand Opening celebration.

Be sure to visit Hope Park, located in Frisco, Texas whenever you’re in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. Hope Park and Friendship Park are both located at 8000 McKinney Road, Frisco, TX 75034. Visit Hope Park’s Facebook page for more information.

Building Communities While Building Playgrounds!

Fort Wildflower Flower Mound Texas

We here at Leathers & Associates are so excited to finally reveal our redesigned website and new blog! We’ve been diligently working on ways to share all of the amazing communities we have worked with and all of the inspiring stories we have come across while building uniquely designed and fun playgrounds literally around the globe.

Our philosophy at L&A is simple. For over 40 years we have designed one-of-a-kind playgrounds using the imaginations of countless children, and then brought those designs to fruition by streamlining the community volunteer process. You might say we “Build Playgrounds While Building Communities.” And we’ve seen it happen time and time again–there’s just something special about being a part of something great. After all, what’s greater than seeing the smile on a child’s face or feeling the warmth in one’s heart after volunteering to bring an amazing play structure to your community?

DurinFort Wildflower openingg the course of 2012 and early 2013 it was our pleasure to help conceptualize, design, and build several unique playgrounds. We were busy all across North Texas in the Dallas Fort Worth area with builds in Prosper (Windmill Playground), Flower Mound (Fort Wildflower), Coppell (Kid Country), Friendship Park (Frisco, TX), and the much anticipated all-inclusive, sensory-rich Hope Park playground also located in Frisco.  Both Kid Country playground (Coppell, TX)  and Friendship Park (Frisco, TX) were rebuilds of earlier playgrounds L&A had designed over 20 years ago. When the playgrounds were ready to be modernized, the cities of Coppell and Frisco turned again to Leathers for the rebuilds. We feel so honored to be chosen again by the great folks in Texas!

Not only were we busy, busy, busy in Texas (with additional builds taking place in El Paso, Odessa, Bullard, and Ballinger) we also stayed equally busy across the United States with builds in Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington, Alabama, Missouri, Minnesota, and New York. We even had the opportunity to build a playground in Rye, Australia!

We can’t wait to tell you more about all the great playground projects we have slated for the near future in another post, including a one-of-a-kind new all-inclusive playground coming to Salinas, California (Tatum’s Garden), but first we want to tell you a little bit about our redesigned website and blog. If you’re visiting our website right now, then you will notice HUGE changes to how everything looks! We’ve tried to make information easier to find, as well as showcase plenty of our great playgrounds. We’ve also added sections for our build options (community, contractor), how to care long term for your playground, and resources to help you. We are especially proud of our all-inclusive playgrounds section which is designed to help communities incorporate fun-filled places where children can play together with their peers, family, friends, and neighbors without experiencing physical or social barriers to inclusion.

Our other big change is the addition of a blog which will be updated frequently with highlights of new playgrounds, stories about the communities and children we serve, ideas and tips to keep all children engaged in play everyday, and for sure a few other goodies that come along. Our blog will be engaging, inspiring, and fun-filled! We think anyone with a love for volunteerism, community, play, and children (including parents) will want to subscribe to our blog. Subscribing is simpledo it today so you don’t miss out!

Also, check us out online in these additional places:

We can’t wait to tell you more!

Questions? Contact us at

Brand new playground shapes up

Anyone for pirate ships?

Published: Nov 6th, 7:14 AM

ROXBURY TWP. – Here’s what’s been decided so far: The new Imagination Station is going to contain a large pirate ship, with a steering wheel, with many sliding boards leading off of it.

That was one idea, according to Imagination Station volunteer Barbara Martinez, that was taken to heart by architect Dennis Wille, of the firm Leathers and Associates of Ithaca, N.Y.

The world-renowned playground designing firm is once again back in Roxbury Township, 20 years after it first helped more than 1,000 Roxbury volunteers construct the first Imagination Station playground at the Horseshoe Lake recreational facility in Succasunna.

Because the all-wooden Imagination Station no longer meets playground safety standards established by the state, it must come down. In its place will be constructed the new Imagination Station.

And at the Eisenhower Middle School last Wednesday evening, Martinez, who spearheaded the first volunteer effort nearly 20 years ago, was among the approximate 250 volunteers, parents and children who attended the “design day” meeting.

This time around, Martinez, of Succasunna, is a member of the steering committee, while Sandie DiDomenico, Michele Clark and Lisa Falco are the project’s general coordinators.

The ladies, along with Wille and Leathers’ project manager Kyle Cundey joined other volunteers in visiting each of the Roxbury district’s grammar schools Wednesday morning and afternoon.

The idea, Martinez said, was to gain as much input from students in grades K-4 as possible as to what they would personally each like to see in a new playground.

The best ideas, or the common themes, were recorded by Wille, who later drew up a sketch of what a new playground might look like.

“The meeting went wonderfully, and we had a great turnout,” Martinez said. “We signed up more volunteers and we are really trying to get the message out there that this is a community event. It’s not a township project. We really need the volunteers,” she said.

“Everyone who came was enthusiastic. The children were super enthusiastic. And the architect (Wille) just did a great job. He is so into it, and he really got the children excited about having a hand in planning what it’s all going to look like,” she said.

“By the end of the day, we had a sketch. We have some idea now of what it’s going to look like,” she said.

One of the things that will replace the now castle-like façade is a giant pirate ship structure, she said.

“One little boy said he wanted the ship to have a steering wheel, so that will be included in the plans too,” she said.

Other requests, which will be included, are a spider web-shaped rope climbing maze, swings, and slides coming off of the pirate ship structure.

A climbing wall and a balance beam were among other popular requests.

“A lot of kids also said they wanted to be able to race around the structures without touching the ground, like you can do at some parts of  Imagination Station now,” she said. A rocket ship structure was another request.

“We wrote all of the ideas down, and met back at the rec. center with Dennis (Wille),” she said.

Some ideas, such as a trampoline and a “zip line” had to be rejected because of safety reasons, she said, and still some other ideas were outlandishly undoable.

“A lot of the kids asked for things like upside down tunnels and upside down sliding boards. Some of the ideas were very clever, but some things just can’t be done,” she said.

Wednesday night, Wille also showed slides of other playgrounds around the country- and the world- that his firm has helped communities design.

In addition the committee volunteers, more than 1,000 community members will be needed to rebuild the playground in the spring.

“We have an Eagle Scout who is going to do the planters and the seats as well,” Martinez said.

But first, “Demolition Day” is the main objective. That’s planned for the weekend of Nov. 13 and 14.

The township will assist with the removal of all the wood and materials, she said, and will also provide the crane necessary to remove the “turrets” that surround the current playground.

“The township will start the work on Nov. 11 and 12, and the volunteers will complete the demolition on that weekend,” she said.

In addition, fundraisers are beginning. Organizers are planning on all of the labor and tools being donated. But, the plastic composite materials, along with rust-proof metal, will likely have to be purchased. The project, Martinez said, will also likely have to go out to bid.

“We don’t know what the cost is going to be yet for the materials. We are still waiting for a materials list, and then, we can price it all out,” she said.

“Some of these materials can only be purchased from a few different locations around the country,” she said.

Organizers are selling engraved “pickets” for the picket fence that will surround the new playground in the future. Flyers advertising them can be found in the schools and at the recreation department office.

In addition, Martinez said students district-wide will be conducting a “penny drive” to raise money for the project.

‘For My Kids’

Clark, who is co-chairing the organization committee, said she is excited because her 3 and 5 year old will literally be able to tell their friends that their mom and dad built their playground.

“It’s exciting. It’s a lot of stress, and it’s daunting, but it’s exciting,” she said.

“The meeting went great. We weren’t sure what the turnout was going to be like. We worked hard to get the word out, but you never know. But it was great. We must have had 300 people there,” she said.

“You really get that overwhelming feeling that you are doing something for your kids, and for all of the kids,” she said.

She said the “Pennies for Playground” campaign was done 19 years ago, and was very successful in raising funds.

“We are going to do that again. The kids have been great. And Dennis (Wille) really engaged them. He walked them through what it’s going to look like. It’s kind of cool looking, but then I kept thinking that we have to actually build it,” she said.

“We have to lug the materials, and cut them and put it all together. I’m really excited, but it’s stressful at the same time,” she said.

Children, she said, will also be asked to come up with ideas to supply a time capsule, which will be buried somewhere on the site. Incidentally, a time capsule was buried 20 years ago as well. And it’s somewhere in the Imagination Station. That, of course, will have to be dug up as well.

Just something else to look forward to, Clark said.

Beats Expectations

Councilman Fred Hall, who is working with the volunteers, said last Wednesday’s meeting exceeded all of his expectations, and said there were not only many adults, but also more than 100 kids there.

“The attendance was just unbelievable. The consultant (Leathers Associates) are true professionals. They really know what they are doing, and the coordinating efforts that have been done by these volunteers has already been extraordinary,” Hall said.

“The designs look spectacular. They really tried to incorporate most of what the kids wanted,” Hall said.

“Some of the kids asked for a hot tub and a bungee jump. I can definitely say we are not going to include those in the plans,” Hall said.

Anyone wishing to volunteer for a committee, to volunteer for construction and/or demolition or wishing to make a cash donation can contact DiDomenico at (973) 927-5274 or Martinez at (973) 927-5391.

Fort Frankfurt Celebrates 15 Years

History of park, recognition of volunteers planned

In just six short days in the fall of 1999, Frankfort residents, community leaders and local businesses came together to build Fort Frankfort. That same group will come back together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the park on Saturday, Oct. 10.

The group, Operation Playground, is responsible for the park and was formed at the time Fort Frankfort was built. The 10-year anniversary celebration is a time to remember the history of the park and not let Frankfort residents forget, said Phil Simmons, an original Operation Playground member.

“Ten years is the perfect time,” he said. “It’s far away enough to celebrate but close enough to gather everyone together that was responsible for this park.”

Terry Rusin, who was a park commissioner at the time, is responsible for Fort Frankfort.

In 1998, the Frankfort Park District acquired 60 acres, which is now Commissioners Park, but Simmons said they had exhausted their funds from the purchase and didn’t have the money to do anything with the land, until Rusin came up with an idea.

“About 11 years ago I had been visiting my parents in the upper peninsula and there was a Leathers [and Associates, a consulting company] Playground being built with the support of the community,” Rusin said. “I thought this was such a good idea, I spoke with the Frankfort Park District about doing such a project in one of their parks.”

From there, Rusin took charge of the project and called an organizational committee, which decided on a target completion date of October 1999.

“We had about 10 different committees to work on various aspects of the playground from collecting tools and materials, volunteers, advertisement, food, childcare, fundraising and design,” she said. “On the week of the build, we had approximately 800 volunteers that came out throughout the week.”

On Oct. 10, Operation Playground and the Frankfort Park District will celebrate during the day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with free events for children including inflatables, carnival games and music by DJ Don. The children’s events are all sponsored by the Frankfort Park District.

From 6-11 p.m., Operation Playground will sponsor a dinner and entertainment for adults only. Tickets are $25 each. During the event past and present volunteers will be recognized and Operation Playground plans to celebrate their commitment to the original construction on Fort Frankfort.

“This is just a way to say thank you to the volunteers who are still a vital part of the park,” Kathy Tinker, of Operation Playground said. “We have a maintenance day every year, when volunteers re-paint, re-stain and bring in more mulch. That’s why 10 years later Fort Frankfort looks like it’s still in great shape.”

For more information about the event call Terry Rusin at (815) 469-2548.

To reach Colleen, e-mail at

Community Built

The first playground we designed and built in 1971 was community built.

Almost 40 years later we are still helping build communities.  A lot has changed over the years – designs and materials have evolved.  In recent years it seems many of the manufacturers are claiming they do community built and in some ways they may.  But true community built is not just about community playground assembly. It’s about getting people involved, building bridges, empowering volunteers and truly building community.  The community build process not only connects people but teaches our children community service lessons and proves dreams can become reality when working together for a common cause.  The positive benefits that result from a  custom-designed community-built playground can’t be beat.  This unique process has the power to change lives and inspire community members to continue volunteering and helping others. Be a part of the future – make a difference in your community!

Still custom design…Still community built….HUGE community impact!