It didn’t take long for us to realize that we couldn’t build Possibility Playground on our own. We had to divide and conquer; splitting the work into separate steering committees and trusting each to run in their own direction to make it all come together.
The first step to creating the playground was finding strong General Coordinators. Mardy McGarry and Sue Mayer oversaw the project, and established each steering committee. From our experience we would suggest having co-chairs for each committee including the area of general coordination. Life happens…and it is always helpful to have someone you can share the responsibility with or trade off in areas where there are strengths and weaknesses. With the leadership of the general coordinators, the committees were able to focus their energy on their respective areas. The general coordinators job, however, went far beyond simply overseeing the committees. Mardy and Sue quickly became the face of the project by negotiating with the city, working with the city planner, making presentations and taking care of big picture things like insurance as they moved into the build day.
The most important part of the press relations component was getting the word out early and often. The steering committee developed a clear message to quickly communicate the purpose of Possibility Playground. Greta, the committee leader and her graphic designers developed an eye-catching logo that mirrored the playground’s message and developed a website. It was key that the site was up and running early, and updated often as the project progressed. The site was the primary way to communicate the fund-raising needs, upcoming events and other information to the community as well among the volunteers and steering committees.
The other important key was securing the support of Ozaukee Press, the local newspaper, as a sponsor. They supported us throughout the process with advertising, editorial coverage, in-depth articles, sports coverage of our Run, Walk and Roll, promotion of fundraising efforts and lots of photos. This was the most important PR aspect because, while volunteers and donations did come in from the larger region, the primary support, volunteers and fundraising money came from the immediate community.
The media list also included the region’s daily newspapers, which ran calendar listings and short stories, and the area’s television and radio stations. As we neared the build date and excitement grew, the television and radio stations came on board. We made some important connections to local personalities who championed our cause like Fox6’s Rob Haswell, the Morning Blend TV Show, and 94.5 The Lake’s Radio Show, Mathew Blades, who broadcasted live during the build, with updates that ran throughout the duration. All the local network news stations visited the build, some several times. This additional PR coverage helped put the fundraising over the top after the project was complete.
The most effective way to get the media involved in your project is to start with a phone call and connect with a person. If you reach a voicemail your message could go something like this
“Hi, my name is __ and I have heard that you like to get involved with community projects. I am heading up an effort and we are almost done, we just need someone with prominence (you) to get involved. Please call me back so I can fill you in. We would love to have your help!”
Following that up with an email also is helpful.
Repeat these steps once and if you don’t hear back, move on. Because we all know, time is of the essence.
BUT – If you do get that call back – be upfront about what it will take to get your project done. Also, make sure you tell them that they will be an “exclusive” partner in this effort.
What you really need is a station that wants a project, and I would encourage you to email our media sponsor, Mathew Blades prior to approaching them. Maybe he knows someone, and could help make the initial contact! Email Mathew@firstname.lastname@example.org and in your subject line put “Possibility Playground.”
With a budget of $450,000, fundraising was no small task. Luckily, Stacy Peters had enthusiasm for every dollar we had to raise. She was creative about raising the money, and did everything from donation drives in schools and businesses to grant writing. Nearly every business in Port Washington was contacted to see if they could provide a donation or sponsor an item in the playground. The committee set up booths at local events and sold t-shirts, backpacks and a community cookbook. They held carnivals, picnics, a dance/silent auction and started an annual Run, Walk & Roll. Even our Childcare Committee, Cindy and Paul Dasbach, got in on the act, putting together a Guitar Hero contest to raise money. The enthusiasm was contagious, and encouraged others to hold bake sales, pig roasts and garage sales in support of the playground. This committee made sure the community was informed about the project no matter where they went and also helped campaign for the 1,500 volunteers needed for the build day.
With a minimum of 1,500 volunteers required for the design day, Melissa Neimeyer had her work cut out for her. This meant having a designated number of volunteers to not only build but also to work in the food and tool areas. Advertisements went out in the local newspapers, at community functions, on the radio, and through word of mouth. Volunteer Coordinators also heavily recruited through churches, civic groups, schools, and the armed services. We were extremely fortunate to have the Ozaukee Press and the WKTI radio station promoting our project to help the word spread quickly. The National Guard and Marine units in the area provided very skilled workers for numerous days. We also had a large turnout of students from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Cardinal Stritch and Concordia University who voluntered multiple days. As the week of the build began our numbers grew after each shift. The excitement grew as did the ownership each volunteer took in being a part of the playground. By the day the playground was complete we had over 2,700 people who helped to make the dream of Possiblity Playground a reality. The volunteers set an example of what a small community can truly do when they all work together and give a little time to make something happen.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome for the project was the donation of materials and tools. Sue and her husband Jeff along with Sid Arthur worked together to not only collect but also coordinate the incredible amount of donations necessary to complete the playground. As contractors, Jeff and Sid had great connections for finding donations of tools. DeWalt, Milwaukee Tool and Johnson Level all stepped forward to donate a large number of tools for the build. Sue gave presentations to local businesses who were incredibly generous in their donations. Samantha Williams worked tirelessly calling on small companies, locating possible sources and collecting donations wherever she went. Almost all of the hardware was donated by Fastenal in Port Washington with additional help from True Value.
While simply imagining all the tools, materials, and supplies involved in building a playground the size of a football field is overwhelming, the true magnitude of this project is the generosity with which people approached it. Sue never could have imagined how many people went out of their way to make Possibility Playground a reality. Trucks and semi trailers were brought in to accommodate the number of tools and product donations. Countless drills, hammers, and saws were either donated or loaned by local contractors. Speciality parts were custom made by companies all around Wisconsin all done through donations and discounted materials. Donated services from preparing the surface, to landscaping to concrete work and beyond was more than we had ever imagined possible.
It’s not difficult to imagine that such a project quickly gained media attention. As the coordinator of donations, it was Sue’s job to ensure that all the companies who helped make Possibility Playground a reality received recognition with the press. By highlighting our donors, the playground took off, and received even more donations toward the end of the project.
To see which companies helped us, check out our supporters page.
Little did we know how difficult it would be to get donated food for the build. As time drew nearer to the build, we realized this was a bigger task than anticipated and recruited more help for Carol Lemke, the food coordinator. Susan Waldkirch stepped in and co-coordinated with Carol in contacting local restaurants, churches, schools and others. Liz Bannon brought her sales skills to the table by contacting larger corporations for food and drinks. The Ozaukee Press donated ad space to help out, as well. As it turned out, many churches, local organizations, and individual volunteers made homemade casseroles, salads, cookies, desserts, and more. Local restaurants donated food and even in some cases their staff to serve nutritional meals. Our biggest challenge during the build (that we were happy to have) was the unknown of how many volunteers we would need to feed at each meal. As the weather got nicer and the word got around, people showed up from all over to help. When we ran out of bottled water the first day or so, the radio station, WKTI put out an all points bulletin and there was an overwhelming response. There was even a drive-thru at the registration booth where people dropped off water, Gatorade, and soda. We were blessed to have donated items such as a refrigerator truck, banquet-style tent, man-made dishwashing station, storage trailer, ice, and electricity. Carol and Susan will never forget the cheerful volunteers who helped them. Due to the community coming together, we provided some delicious meals for the volunteers.
To design a playground unlike any other, we had to hire a design team unlike any other: kids. We held a design day in which we filled a cafeteria with kids who told us what their dream playground would look like. This was essential, since the playground is first and foremost theirs. We were then able to take their ideas to playground experts Leathers and Associates from Ithaca, New York to turn their dreams into a functional design. Although we weren’t able to incorporate all of the children’s ideas into the final design, we gained incredible insight as to the difficulties some children have navigating and using a playground.
The meetings with Leathers & Associates were vital to the overall projects success. We learned that they could accommodate a 2% slope in the ground surface, so we had to “cut and fill” to allow for drainage. The plan called for about 400 posts in total, and the holes had to be staked and color coded to diameter and depth. What a system! But it worked to perfection.
We allowed for 2 weeks and ended up needing all of it because of rain! The digging with the boom and auger trucks was hard and messy, but it was imperative that the site be “ready” for the start of the build! The rain made the “leveling of the site” a massive chore of raking and wheel-barrowing, but students from the local High School were a huge help.
All of our hard work finally paid off! For six days in September 2008, over 2,700 volunteers came together to build Possibility Playground in Port Washington, Wisconsin. 18 construction captains oversaw the building process as the playground suddenly began to arise around us. Coordination was key to stay on top of everything that was going on. Among other things, this meant keeping the volunteers hydrated, fed, and stocked with fresh drill bits. The spirit of the playground began with its building process, as people of all ages and abilities came to help out. As the culmination of all our hard work, we ended up building more than a playground: we built a community.
The final steps included pouring the concrete, taking the work of six crews of volunteer contractors and 10 hours of work…and what an undertaking it was. 3/4 inch holes had to be drilled in the base of the concrete before the surface could even be placed, to allow for drainage. Throughout the process there were many variables that we were presented with that pulled our team together to arrive at the best solution.