The newly installed plaque on the City Park playground says it all: “When children play, the WORLD wins! Get dirty, have fun and most of all, be kind to one another.” Between the lines of that quote is the love and support the Winters community has shown toward its children throughout the years, but particularly as community members young and old alike gathered at the park on Wednesday, May 16, to celebrate the formal dedication of Project Playground’s shining glory.
Emarie VanGalio and Moyra Barsotti, the powerhouses behind Project Playground, who masquerade as “just two moms” (the entire community now knows better), opened the celebration with recognition and praise for everyone involved in the rebuilding project, from its early fundraising and planning days in Sept. 2016 through the pounding of the last nail during Build Week, Oct. 9-15, 2017.
First to speak on the project was City Manager John Donlevy, who not only volunteered many hours personally but also encouraged city public works staff to do so as well. He emphasized that a project like this doesn’t happen just anywhere.
“In many cities that try to do this, it doesn’t happen,” he said, noting that the difference in Winters was “great vision and tenacity.” He praised VanGalio and Barsotti for their fundraising strategies, and said “they could write a book on that.”
Donlevy added that he soon discovered that the best thing the city could do to facilitate the reality of the old dilapidated wooden playground with a brand new one was to “get out of the way and let a motivated group of people do something amazing.” He additionally pointed out that if the city had to fund this project on its own, the cost would have been upwards of $2 million. Fundraising, donations and volunteer effort brought the entire project in not only at its budget of $350,00, but surged well past that at more than $450,000, allowing for extra bells and whistles on the playground.
“We have something the city could never have afforded,” said Donlevy. “It’s a work of art by some immensely skilled folks. It’s more than a playground. It’s people coming to work side by side to make something special.”
Barsotti followed, noting the many personal and healthy benefits of volunteering, said that volunteering “can change the community as a whole.” She then introduced Project Playgrounds “rock star volunteers,” Wade and Kathy Cowan.
“Their selflessness is like no other,” said Barsotti.
Side by side with his wife, Mayor Wade Cowan did all the speaking for the two.
Cowan said the celebration was “a chance to reflect on why it’s so special to live in Winters.” He also praised some of the major donors, including Russ and Kathy Lester, the Winters Friends of the Library and the Rotary Club of Winters, each donating $30,000, but also mentioned the small donations that added up, like those who rounded up their purchases at Pacific Ace Hardware. Beyond monetary donations, Cowan said most everyone and every organization in town supported the project in ways large and small.
The biggest donation, he said, came from “our neighbor, Yocha Dehe.” The tribe contributed $150,000, putting the funds raised well over the top of the $350,000 goal. Cowan had nothing but praise for the Yocha Dehe tribe.
“They have always been one of the best neighbors Winters could ever have,” he said.
He additionally thanked everyone who “rolled up your sleeves and came out here to work together to build this park.” He emphasized that many of these volunteers worked on the original play structure in 1989, and brought their children and grandchildren, making it a multi-generational effort. He said that there were even volunteers who didn’t even live in Winters that turned out to help because they “wanted to be part of something amazing.”
No matter the size of the donation or the amount of time volunteered, Cowan said, “We were all working toward the same goal — every job mattered.”
He also marveled over the fact that the play structure was built within the span of seven days, just as planned.
“Just one week in October — just look what we have built,” said Cowan. “Winters is the envy of the region, and this park is one of the reasons why.”
VanGalio returned to the microphone to list all the major donors and supporters, but noted that even the children pitched in, holding penny drives and offering their suggestions and wishes for the new park — which were taken into consideration when it was designed. She then invited Burnam Lowell, representing the Yocha Dehe Tribal council, to the podium, saying, “We are forever grateful for your generosity and support.”
Lowell said the tribe valued its collaborating with “our neighbor on projects that have real, lasting impact on our communities.”
“What an amazing accomplishment it is,” he said. “We are proud to partner with the city of Winters and helping to bring it to completion.”
In honor of Yocha Dehe’s major contribution, the new plaque commemorating the dedication of the playground includes a message from the tribe, side by side with one from Project Playground.
Barsotti returned to the podium and noted that during Build Week alone, 1,700 volunteers turned out to help.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of you,” she said, adding, “We all did this for the children, and not just the children we put to bed at night — we mean every single child.”
With that, she welcomed someone well known to most every child in town to the podium — Greg Moffitt, principal of Winters Elementary School (Waggoner and Rominger Schools combined).
“The children of this community are amazing, and the children are lucky to have an amazing community cheering them on,” said Moffitt, noting that the kids pitched in too, collecting “pennies, nickels, dimes, dollars and their parents’ checks” to help raise money for the project.
He noted that the enthusiasm with which the children greeted the park when it opened in October.
“This park is filled with children every day — their energy, their laughter, and their love.”
Moffitt then welcomed students from The Tree House to perform the “Bubble Gum” song, followed by three members of the Winters Elementary School Ukulele Club, who played a song while a group of children danced in the background on the playground stage, to an actual “Project Playground Song,”
Moffitt next read an inspirational poem, and pointed out the garlands of hanging “thank you” notes written children adorning the structure. Picking up an over-sized pair of scissors, surrounded by eager children, he went over to cut the ribbon on the officially dedicated play structure.
“I declare the park open,” he said as he snipped the ribbon in two, and children streamed joyfully onto the community’s new centerpiece of pride and source of joy for many generations to come.