A group of representatives from the 6 Rotary clubs of Area 1 (now Area 10) of Rotary District 7630 met in March, 2003 with the goal of commemorating the Centennial of Rotary International in 2005 with a significant and sustainable project for the benefit of the Wilmington, Delaware area.
It quickly became clear that there was a real need that presented an opportunity for the Rotarians to work together in a spirit of service. Some 8,000 children with disabilities living in Delaware did not have a public playground where they could play without limitation. That fact focused the group on the process that would lead to the opening of the Can-Do Playground. The project would have to satisfy a number of criteria. First and foremost, the project would have to meet the established criteria for Rotary Centennial projects: fulfilling a clearly identifiable need, providing a solution with measurable results and including active participation of Rotarians.
The group learned of the Boundless Playgrounds® movement and several facilities successfully operating under its guidance. The concept met the criteria and was quickly approved. Rotarian and State Representative Bob Valihura was aware that a playground was being planned as part of the State of Delaware’s Blue Ball project and recognized the opportunity for collaboration. He began discussions with the Division of Parks and Recreation personnel about developing the Rotary project on the land set aside for a playground as part of the new Alapocas Run State Park just north of Wilmington. This resulted in an outstanding partnership including the Rotary clubs, DelDOT, the Division of Environmental Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Division of Parks and Recreation and private vendors, leading to the Can-Do Playground.
The non-profit corporation formed by the Rotary clubs to complete the project contracted with the National Center for Boundless Playgrounds®, the Connecticut-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities create extraordinary barrier-free playgrounds where children with and without disabilities can develop essential skills for life as they learn together through interactive play. After two community planning meetings, one involving local adult caregivers and special education personnel and one with children, the Center created a design that includes three primary “Play Environment Groupings.” Each of these PEGs accommodates the needs of children with specific kinds of disabilities: physical, developmental and cognitive.
Once the plans were made and a budget developed, the Can-Do Project Team began a robust fundraising effort. The total budget added up to about $970,000. The State stepped up by contributing not only the land on which to construct the playground, but the site preparation, grading, fencing, parking and landscape materials, as well, for a value equaling about $500,000. The remaining funding was raised from Rotarians, Rotary clubs and other caring groups and individuals. The final amount raised exceeded our goal, and additional funds have been raised during the first decade of the Playground’s operation, have provided the non-profit corporation with an endowment that has funded maintenance and some enhancements.
The group’s efforts yielded a beautiful play environment that answered the dreams of so many families in our region. From our Grand Opening on July 11, 2007, the Can-Do Playground has been a true destination for families of all kinds. In fact, it has been consistently ranked as Delaware’s #1 playground and has been named as one of the 50 Best Playgrounds In America by Early Childhood Education Zone. The State of Delaware has continued to play an important part in the development of the Can-Do Playground, providing rest room and picnic facilities at the site.
As of the 10th anniversary, the leaders of the non-profit determined that the time had come for updates and upgrades. Heavily used play areas had begun to show signs of wear, particularly on ramps and walkways, the need to provide a high quality rubberized base under all of the apparatus on the site had become very apparent. Furthermore, more and better understanding of the best kinds of experiences for kids with various kinds of needs really dictated that the time had come to celebrate the playground’s 10th anniversary with significant and meaningful upgrades. Additional fund raising efforts were undertaken to accomplish our objectives.