The Friends of Fleetwood Playground are excited, to say the least, about their new Locust Street Playground, being installed June 22 thanks to a $65,000 grant and community support.
“A big thank you to the entire community and of course to the Gilmore | Henne Community Fund,” said Vicki Letterman of the Friends of the Fleetwood Playground. “I feel ecstatic, just very happy and excited for this whole community.”
“We were astounded and humbled that they would choose our little Fleetwood to give this huge amount of equipment and all that goes with it,” said Parks & Recreation Chair Suzan Wetherhold, Council member.
The story starts with two Fleetwood residents Vicki Letterman and Lainie Renne (who has since moved to another county) petitioning Fleetwood Borough Council about one year ago for a new playground on Locust Street.
Council denied the request because of a history of vandalism at the park and due to a lack of available funding, said Wetherhold.
The denial didn’t slow them down. Letterman and Renne immediately began fundraising on their own, including a Block Party and National Night Out.
“They then joined forces with the Friends of Fleetwood Playground,” said Wetherhold.
Started seven years ago Friends of Fleetwood Playground members Suzanne Touch, Dawn Geschwindt, Daphne Bauer and Tina Hermany were revitalizing the park equipment at the Main Street Fleetwood Park, for which the last phase is scheduled for September. With that park project nearing completion thanks to community support and other funding, Geschwindt, Lainie and Jason Renne and Letterman wrote a grant application for the Locust Street Park.
“Because we were so established already, we were organized and already had money in the bank and just had a lot going for us, of all the applications, ours really stood out,” said Wetherhold.
“The Gilmore | Henne Community Fund chose this particular park due to the overwhelming support from the local community and measures that were already taken in an effort to bring a playground to a barren 55’ x 74’ piece of land,” wrote Christine Anderton, M.S., Executive Director, Gilmore | Henne Community Fund, in a release.
Renne and Letterman’s efforts to raise funds to replace the old equipment that was in poor condition brought the playground into the spotlight.
“Once the Borough of Fleetwood caught wind of this, they inspected the playground equipment, deemed it unsafe, and removed everything. The Locust Street Park was left with an empty space where a playground once was,” wrote Anderton.
When the Friends of Fleetwood Playground met with the Gilmore | Henne Community Fund representatives, they were still explaining why they needed the playground. They didn’t know they had been chosen.
“$65,000 grant, you’ve got to be kidding,” said Wetherhold, reliving the experience. “You’re giving us a park?!”
“We were speechless,” said Letterman.
“That just freed up 10 years of our lives,” said Wetherhold, explaining they anticipated it taking that long to raise the funds on their own.
Anderton explained that what the Gilmore | Henne Community Fund does is not necessarily award a grant but the cost of the project for them will be about $65,000, not including some of their services. And not including community support.
“The community, the merchants in this area, have given an astounding amount to this project,” said Wetherhold.
Weaver’s Hardware donated the cement. Berks Products gave the stone at cost. Ric’s Excavating provided the excavating of the site. Landscaping services and materials are donated by Spayd’s Landscaping.
Food for the day of the build will be provided by area businesses and groups, including Unique Pretzels, Berks Fire & Water, Letterman’s Diner, Lions, Simmeria’s, Dori Martin Catering, Mazzola’s, Fiore’s and numerous individuals.
“It’s just an astounding thing,” said Letterman about the community involvement.
“It’s been a huge community event,” agreed Wetherhold.
There will be lighting and eyes keeping an eye on the park.
“There were will be a lot of eyes on this well lit park, so that teens don’t feel like this is a place they can come and put everybody’s hard work to shame,” said Wetherhold.
“We have a lot of high school students coming to help, a lot of sports teams, FBLA,” said Letterman.
They are hoping that with those teens helping that they put the time and effort into the project, why would they want to destroy it. Or if they hear about someone else talking about vandalizing the park, they tell an adult or authority.
“It’s not just for the young kids. It’s for all ages. It’s for the whole community,” said Letterman.
Aderton said The Gilmore | Henne Community Fund’s mission is to revitalize parks and recreational facilities in Berks County, and in doing so, instill a sense of pride and ownership for communities surrounding the parks and playgrounds. The Friends of Fleetwood Playground, Inc. encompass everything the Gilmore | Henne Community Fund stands for, she said.
Anderton said the revitalization at the Locust Street Park is unique. It’s design was created with the help and support of the IM ABLE Foundation.
She said IM ABLE’s mission with this project is to provide an equal play opportunity for children of all abilities. The Gilmore | Henne Community Fund partnered with IM ABLE last year on the Opportunity House project and hopes to continue to partner with them on every future project.
Anderton also noted that this particular playground will be adaptive, meaning children of all abilities can play and interact together. The IM ABLE Foundation provided funding for all the adaptive pieces that will be installed at the Locust Street Park on June 22.
Excavation of the playground area began June 9 and various prep work will be conducted up until June 21 to prepare for the build. Rick’s Contracting and Excavating, and Spayd’s Landscaping are doing most of the prep work at no cost. Weaver’s Hardware has also donated the concrete needed. Various other local businesses and individuals have offered their services and help with the project.
If you are interested in coming and helping with the community build, or supporting the project in any way, email firstname.lastname@example.org.