Members of six local Rotary clubs are working hard to secure the last bit of funding necessary to build a special playground in Milford for disabled children.
They're also hoping luck is on their side: the group is in the running for a $25,000 grant that will go far toward raising the remaining $100,000 needed to complete the planned playground.
"That $25,000 will be a major help," said Charlie Towers, chairman of the playground building committee. "It covers about 25 percent of the debt, and that's quite a grant."
The Can Do Playground at Milford will be created through a partnership between the city, Rotary District 7630 Area 4 Rotary Clubs and the state Department of Parks and Recreation. It will be built behind the Boys & Girls Club of Milford on Airport Road.
Designed by not-for-profit Boundless Playgrounds Inc. of Chattanooga, Tenn., it will be one of almost 200 such playgrounds in the United States and Canada.
The Milford playground is modeled on a Can Do Playground that opened in Wilmington in July 2007.
Tom Talley, president of the Wilmington Rotary group, wanted to build a recreation area in that city for families with at least one physically disabled child, Towers said. As far back as 2003, the Wilmington Rotarians started researching the idea of balanced playgrounds, where disabled and non-disabled children could play together on equal terms.
When it came to designing the planned Milford playground, Towers said the Sussex County Rotarians went straight to the source.
"We decided we didn't need to reinvent the wheel," he said. "Tom came down every month from Wilmington to advise us."
Opening in 2007, the Wilmington Can Do Playground has proven so popular people from as far away as New Jersey and Maryland bring their children there, Talley said.
"Children use playgrounds for more than just playing," he said. "They conceptualize, they make decisions, they challenge their bodies. The key here is that 70 percent of the playground is accessible to children with disabilities.
"It allows children of all abilities to interact with each other, and that's priceless."
Towers also made several trips to the Wilmington playground to see how it operated.
"I've sat there and watched people with their kids," he said. "The first time I was there was on a Thursday, and there must have been 50 or 60 people there.
"Whenever I've been in the area, I'd go by there. It's pretty cool to watch."
Some of the features for the Can Do Playground include wheelchair ramps to access raised sandboxes, chairs and swings into which children with conditions such as cerebral palsy may be safely strapped and play areas with a four-inch thick rubber base instead of mulch or cement.
Page 2 of 2 - The hoped-for $25,000 grant will come from the State Farm Insurance Company, which set up a Facebook page looking for at least 3,000 ideas for community projects. The company narrowed the entries down to about 200, including Milford. The top 40 vote-getters in that group each will get a $25,000 prize.
Working since 2009, the Milford playground committee has raised more than $530,000, mostly through grants, Towers said. The town of Milford contributed the land in a $120,000 in-kind grant, leaving the group approximately $100,000 short of their goal. The group already has bought some of the necessary equipment for the playground and paid for engineering work and drawings. They're also working on putting out bids for necessary construction work.
The Rotarians remain confident that even if their project does not win the State Farm grant, they will raise the rest of the money through further grants and some new local fundraising efforts.
During remarks made when the Wilmington Can Do Playground opened, Talley said he had a dream that similar play areas would come to other parts of Delaware. He's happy to see that dream coming true in Milford.
"This was such a natural thing for us to do, and now to have one in the middle of the state, so people don't have to come from so far away is just phenomenal," he said.
"It's more than anything I could have imagined."
To find out more, and to contribute to the Milford Can Do Playground, call project Chairman David Rutt at (302) 424-2240, or go to www.candomilford.org/involved/php.
Note: the Milford Chamber of Commerce is having its annual Golf Classic May 9, with proceeds benefitting the Chamber and the Can Do Playground. For more information on the golf classic, call (302) 422-3344 or email email@example.com.