Funding enables third Operation Hope playground
Herald Progress | February 6, 2014
The efforts of one local organization to ensure disabled children have access to local playgrounds will extend to Courthouse Park this spring.
Operation Hope recently received the last bit of funding it needed to complete its vision in Hanover County. Last week David Nigrelli, of the Greater Richmond Civitan Club, presented Operation Hope cofounder Dana Nelson with a $30,000 check.
“This money here will bring us to a total of $350,000 that was raised for these parks,” Nelson said.
Operation Hope was established in 2004 by Nelson and Katie Stilwell, a former employee of Nelson’s at Commonwealth Wholesale and a student at Christopher Newport University, who was interested in getting involved in a community project.
Nelson recommended she visit the Katie and Friends all-inclusive playground in Chesterfield and Operation Hope grew from there, with Stilwell helping raise the initial funding.
Operation Hope broke ground on its first playground at Pole Green Park in 2007, later adding another at Poor Farm Park. Both all-inclusive sites were in use by 2010.
Originally, Nelson said his group wanted to expand its current playground at Poorfarm Park in Ashland. But in talks with the county’s parks and recreation department, Nelson was informed that the funds would be better utilized at Courthouse Park off of Route 301 because the Poor Farm site was being underused.
The Mechanicsville and Hanover Rotary Clubs were heavily involved in construction and fundraising for the first two parks. The Civitans are the latest service group to help with Operation Hope.
“The overwhelming amount of community involvement has been tremendous,” Nelson said.
Nigrelli said his club’s roots go back to 1923 and is a local chapter of Civitan International, a community service group with an emphasis on helping those with disabilities.
Nigrelli added that the Civitans are a “very hands-on organization” and his club looks forward to breaking ground on the project in early spring.
Funding came through Civitan’s Chesapeake District Foundation, which covers clubs throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nigrelli said that after he learned how close Operation Hope was to its final fundraising goal, he urged his club to “step up to the plate to do something.”
“Our club is very small, we do not have much in the bank, but the foundation allows clubs to submit grants for projects that benefit the community, in particular, those with disabilities,” he said.
Funding was approved late last year, one of the largest grants awarded by the foundation, Nigrelli said.
For Nelson, the grant brings to a close a 10-year effort to improve the lives of children with disabilities.
“It’s taken 10 years and its great to see it come to a close,” Nelson said. “It really couldn’t have been done if it wasn’t for the involvement of so many people.”
Rotarians support Operation Hope playgrounds
Herald Progress | April 21, 2010 | By Dan
of the Hanover and Mechanicsville Rotary clubs came
together at Poor Farm Park Sunday afternoon for a brief
ceremony honoring a recent project-the construction
of two all-inclusive Operation Hope playgrounds in Hanover
Two Hanoverians-Dana Nelson and Katie Stilwell-founded
Operation Hope in 2004 with the intent of developing
two playgrounds that could serve children with disabilities.
One would be at Pole Green Park, and the other at Poor
Ground was broken for the Pole Green playground in
November 2007, and since then, the initial phases of
both playgrounds have been completed and are in use
by local children.
The Hanover and Mechanicsville Rotary clubs were major
fund-raisers for the effort. Among their fund-raising
activities were the first two annual joint Mechanicsville
and Hanover Rotary golf tournaments.
At Sunday's event, club members presented Nelson with
a ceremonial check for $150,000, representing the clubs'
contributions to the cause.
The afternoon also featured several speakers, including
Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Via.
Via thanked the two Rotary clubs "for all the
blood, sweat and tears they put into putting all of
this together for the handicapped children of Hanover
County," he said.
Stan Thorne, assistant director of Hanover Parks &
Recreation, made a few remarks.
"These playgrounds without question are the most
popular amenities within our parks system, and without
everyone's support and all involved, they would not
have happened this soon or this easily," Thorne
"These will be enjoyed by park patrons for many
years to come," he said.
Mechanicsville Rotarian David Fuller, who emceed the
ceremony, provided background information on the project.
"[Nelson and Stilwell's] inspiration was drawn
from the some 2,500 children in our county who have
no access-as did other children-to a regular playground,
or to be able to play with their peers as any other
child," Fuller said.
"Fund-raising began with appeals to individuals,
businesses and civic organizations to raise $300,000.
In 2007, the Rotary clubs of Hanover and Mechanicsville
undertook an extraordinary project to raise $60,000
for Operation Hope, to propel the first phase of the
parks and installation with volunteer labor and to provide
the framework," he continued.
Canova Peterson of the Hanover Rotary Club said that
the latest phase completed was the installation of sidewalks
to make the playgrounds even more accessible.
Peterson pointed out the Rotary emblem engraved in
the sidewalk to the Poor Farm playground. He noted that
the emblem represents neither the Hanover or Mechanicsville
club specifically, but rather Rotary International.
"What we want this symbol to represent is not
just Rotary but the motto of Rotary. Rotary's motto
is a very simple motto: 'Service above self,'"
"We want to dedicate it to all the people, all
the men, the women, the children who have been raising
funds and working very hard to make this dream real.
So when people come to these playgrounds, we hope that
they will see the stone that we're dedicating today
and see and remember the service above self, remember
those who had worked so hard to bring it to fruition
and hopefully be inspired to do the same."
Mechanicsville Rotarian Harold Padgett presented plaques
that will be installed on benches at the two parks,
which will honor the late Rotarian Billy Dixon, who
passed away in 2004.
"Upon his death, the obituary listed three different
areas where contributions could be made, the first one
being Mechanicsville Rotary Club, and so I'm happy to
say that we had over $2,000 contributed to that memory
in the weeks after that," Padgett said.
"Of course, we had no idea exactly what to do
with the money at the time, but it didn't take very
long because Dana Nelson and Katie Stilwell came before
our club and made a talk of Operation Hope, their dream
of it, in early 2005."
Padgett continued, "Something clicked in my head
at the time. I said, 'That's it. That's going to be
Bill's memorial.' And so the club agreed with that,
and while it's taken a few years to get to this point,
nobody ever strayed from the goal."
Mechanicsville Rotarian Brenda Cowlbeck and Hanover
Rotarian David Ellington presented the honorary check
"Without the Rotaries, the children wouldn't be
enjoying the playgrounds today," Nelson said.
"This did start in my office, but I was only a
part of it. It started because a very special young
person, a college student- she was looking for something
that would touch the lives of others here in Hanover
County," he said, referring to Stilwell.
"Katie Stilwell was the one who initially reached
out to businesses, individuals to start the things rolling,"
he added. "Of course, it wouldn't be the reality
it is today without so many people, especially the Rotary,
and I am so thankful. ... I've had some very, very special
people communicate to me that it's touching lives, it
Fuller outlined the next steps of the project. "Within
a few weeks, we will be starting the final phase of
equipment installation at Pole Green Park. We expect
to close that final effort with a dedication ceremony
at the park on an equally beautiful weekend afternoon
in a few months," he said.
Cool Spring Elementary School Raises $3k with a 5k
Family Fun Run to benefit Operation Hope Playgrounds
Mechanicsville, Virginia. The sun was shining on the Cool Spring Elementary School community on Saturday May 9th at the first annual Dolphin Dash. Stephanie Jones, Race coordinator, and teacher at Cool Springs commented that the success of the run was due to the focus being on promoting health and fitness and family fun for a good cause rather than trying to attract competitive runners. This inaugural event raised over $3,000 for Operation Hope Playgrounds, a community effort to build all inclusive playgrounds in Hanover County. The event attracted 436 participants within school community. Many Cool Spring staff actively participated in the planning and made this event a well run, fun event for all. One parent commented that this run gave her family an incentive to run together in the weeks prior to event. Last year the Cool Spring Elementary School PTA held a successful art auction benefiting Operation Hope Playground. Running events included a 5k family run around the school campus and grade level heats of 1 mile fun run. PE Teacher Renee Culley mapped out the 5k route. Community support also came from wellness sponsors including: Jen Dowda – Play Tennis, Jackie Taylor, Transition Lifestyle coach, Hanover Lacrosse, I9 Sports, and Master Cho’s Tae Kwon Do. Scott Dietrich volunteered his talents as race announcer. A bake sale, 50/50 raffle, and clowns who provided face painting and balloon sculpture helped raise the donation total. Dana Nelson, co-founder of Operation Hope Playground was present and announced the start of the race. The community spirit and desire to help get these playgrounds built was evident in all who participated. Operation Hope All Inclusive Playgrounds are located at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville and Poor Farm Park in Ashland. Monies continue to be raised for completion of phase two of the playgrounds to include another level of ramp access, additional ground level play equipment and additional bay of swings for families to enjoy. The poured rubber surface, adapted swings, and ramp access provide opportunities for children and adults with mobility issues to enjoy the playground with their friends. For more information about how you can get involved with this community, playground effort please contact Dana Nelson at 550-2280.
In January of this year (2008) Dana Nelson received a telephone call from Marshall Hudson, Board Chair of CASE CARES, a vision of CASE Credit Union. Marshall said that they had been following our website for some time and they were very inspired by the involvement and support of so many people, businesses, and civic groups for Operation Hope. He felt that it was a community coming together for this project and they wanted to do very much the same in their metropolitan area – he was calling from Lansing, Michigan. He and Dana exchanged some thoughts and ideas, and he was referred to Dave Fuller who helped with an implementation plan. In the following months they brought together their Board of Directors and advisors/consultants, and now as of June 2008 they are making plans to move ahead with the first of a number of playgrounds of all abilities.
Thanks for giving us the opportunity.
All-inclusive playground now open
Polegreen Park facility allows all to play, regardless of challenges
By DAN SHERRIER
H-P Staff Writer