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Two locals spearhead fundraising effort to install playground equipment at Howard Park

Photo courtesy of Laurie Stokes-Woods

This is an artist’s rendering of the playground equipment planned for Howard Park in Fairfield, scheduled to be installed in October.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Stokes-Woods This is an artist’s rendering of the playground equipment planned for Howard Park in Fairfield, scheduled to be installed in October.

FAIRFIELD – A new piece of playground equipment is set to be installed in Fairfield’s Howard Park this autumn.

A couple of local moms led a fundraising effort that garnered about $34,000 in donations. The two were Emily Martlin and Laurie Stokes-Woods. After 10 months of fundraising, enough money was raised to order the playground equipment, which will arrive in early October. Part of the fundraising will go toward paying a supervisor to oversee its installation, but volunteers will be needed to actually build the structure. The Union will publish that date once it has been decided, for those who wish to help build the structure.

Martlin and Stokes had wanted to add playground equipment to the park for the past couple of years. Stokes-Woods enjoyed taking her daughter to the Fairfield Farmers Market, which meets in Howard Park every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning from May through October. The park has four swings – two for toddlers and two for older kids – along with a handful of other toys.

“At that time, my daughter was little, so she had to wait for the toddler swings,” Stokes-Woods recalled. “At that age, it’s hard to wait your turn, and a lot of kids sat around the swings crying because they had to wait.”

Stokes-Woods started a campaign to raise money for swings. She contacted the Fairfield Park & Recreation Department to see how it could help, but learned that the department had no money in its budget to add swings, and that she would have to raise the money herself.

Independently of Stokes, Martlin was having similar thoughts about the need for more playground equipment at Howard Park. She likes to take her son there, but often feels frustrated when all of the swings are in use and there’s nothing for her son to do.

“I thought I could either complain, or I could do something to change it,” Martlin said. “This park is centrally located, and very frequently visited, especially during the farmers market months. I also felt we needed a playground in this area of town, as many parents are on foot and Chautauqua and O.B. Nelson [parks] are sometimes just a bit too far.”

Martlin called Fairfield Park & Rec Director Calvin Todd to tell him she was interested in fundraising for more playground equipment, and that’s when he mentioned that a woman named Laurie Stokes-Woods was interested in replacing the swings.

“I asked for her name and email address, introduced myself, and shared my vision,” Martlin said. “[Stokes-Woods] was immediately on board and has worked tirelessly with me since then.”

Stokes-Woods approached Fairfield resident Dave Neff – whom she regards as a personal mentor – to ask his advice on the matter. Could two people really raise thousands of dollars to build a piece of playground equipment? Neff knew exactly how to answer that.

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible,” he said.

“I called Emily back and told her we have to show Dave Neff we can do it,” Stokes-Woods said.

Martlin and Stokes-Woods have written grants, and asked for donations from local companies, families and friends.

Martlin remarked, “This has been a huge community driven project, and everyone has come together to make this happen.”

Ron Haines of the Fairfield Park & Recreation Foundation kept track of every donation the two women received. Stokes-Woods said the community pulled together by pitching in with their 5, 10 and 20 dollar bills.

“Those are the real heroes of this story,” she said. “That playground will be there because of many people’s donations.”

One of the big checks came in the form of a $9,000 grant from the Greater Jefferson County Foundation. Stokes-Woods and Martlin asked Haines to receive the check because “he never complained once about all the work he got sacked with,” Laurie said.

Fairfield Park & Recreation Department sold tickets to the Rotary Auction in the spring, and was able to donate $3,700 toward the playground.

“It’s a park that desperately needed some new equipment,” said Fairfield Park & Recreation Director Calvin Todd. “We’re fortunate to have Laurie and Emily spearhead a project like this.”

The only part of the installation that the donations won’t cover is the mulch, an expense of about $3,000 that will come from park and rec’s budget. The playground equipment will be placed on the south side of the park, in between the existing swing set and pergola.

Martlin met with representatives of playground equipment manufacturers to come up with a design. She chose equipment that would be suitable for children of all ages. Martlin and Stokes-Woods learned that it would cost $10,000 more to have the playground company install the equipment, but they elected not to incur that expense.

“When I met with the Fairfield Kiwanis Club, they were the first to make the suggestion that we do a volunteer-based build, and that we have a supervisor from the playground company help us along the way,” Martlin said. “Several members of Kiwanis already volunteered their help, and after speaking with Laurie and Fairfield Park and Rec, we decided we could get the project done sooner this way. Parents and friends are all happy to help make this happen.”