“I think this project has strengthened our larger community,” Garnis said. “When we talk about naturally building healthier communities, one of the ingredients of that movement is that segments of the community join together to improve the lives within their community. And I truly believe that this is happening with this project.”
The collaboration has raised $17,000 so far, mostly from private donors. The group has also applied for local grants. “Art for the Park,” a fundraiser featuring donated artwork for sale, will be held Friday and Saturday at First Religious Society.
“Generous, generous individuals have stepped forward since,” Garnis said. “We’ve begun to go to community groups to ask for money, there are grant (requests) out to the (area banks.) There are many facets to raise this money.”
Garnis said members of the effort know how important a playground can be for a community. She said the hope is to start construction this summer.
“When we think about a playground, certainly the goal is to make it fun for the kids,” Garnis said. “I used to take my kids to the parks at Plum Island and West Newbury. The kids here at Kelleher Park don’t have that advantage. They don’t have the transportation to be taken around to playgrounds. In psychology, there is a distinction made between free play and organized play. A playground is free play and important for the development of kids.”
Beyond construction and maintenance of the playground, the group hopes to support 130 low-income families eligible to receive academic support and recreational, mentoring and social programming offered by the Newburyport Learning and Enrichment Center at Kelleher Park.
“These are the things that you say, `Wow, this is something the kids would have that normally they wouldn’t,’” Garnis said.
If the playground drive is successful, Bard and his cohorts hope to form a permanent collaboration to tackle other needs locally.