The Leadership Historic Triangle Class of 2009 includes a who’s who of local business leaders: a lawyer, contractors, a public relations representative, a banker, county employees and more.
But when the leaders met Tuesday morning to break ground on their class project, the My Place playground, they were no longer working on behalf of their respective businesses; they were proud to be working on something benefiting the entire community.
The 6,000-square-foot My Place playground, located on the grounds of the Williamsburg-James City County Community Center on Longhill Road, will provide a much-needed play area for disabled children in the Historic Triangle. It will, however, also be a universal playground with entertainment for all children. The playground will be completed by Nov. 20, which happens to be Universal Children’s Day, and will be fully compliant with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The universal playground will feature a bouncy rubber floor, along with 12 pieces of equipment appealing to children with varying disabilities. Equipment will include traditional attractions such as swings and slides, along with disability-friendly attractions, such as a xylophone and a drum set made out of PVC, said playground designer and class member Chris Basic, a landscape architect with AES.
The park will also include details like sandboxes with back rests for children who cannot sit upright, along with Braille and sensory integration. “It will be fully accessible and open to all children,” he said. “That’s part of the spirit of the project.”
The LHT program, which is sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, began in 1994 and has 250 alumni. The program consists of an orientation, a two-day retreat and eight daylong sessions from October to May, during which members plan a project to benefit the entire community. The class project requires at least 30 additional hours outside regular class time, along with a final-day evaluation and graduation.
The LHT class of 2009 convened in Oct. 2008 and voted on several potential projects before agreeing to build the playground. In their research, the class members learned the closest playgrounds servicing disabled students were in Newport News and Richmond. Additionally, they found the service area – Williamsburg, James City County and York County – has between 4,000 and 5,000 disabled children.
“You don’t realize the amount of the community you’re able to help until you start researching the need,” said class member Peter Henderson of Henderson Inc., who wore a hard hat to Tuesday’s ceremony. “Being involved in this project day-to-day is work that feels really good.”
Henderson said the class is really about harnessing the skills of its members. “We had a very diverse class,” he said. “Anything we needed, we had.”
Together, the class members raised about $150,000 in cash and in kind. The funds were collected from corporate sponsors, donations and a commemorative brick campaign that invited community members to purchase a personalized foundation brick for $50.
Basic said his experience in the class wasn’t about learning how to be a leader. “Doing this had a lot less to do with learning about leadership,” he said. “I was more into the service to the community.”
At the groundbreaking ceremony, city and county leaders joined class member Leonard Sledge to don construction hats and dig in with shovels. After turning a patch of grass, York County Administrator James McReynolds expressed his appreciation for the class’s efforts. “We’re certainly pleased to be a part of this project,” he said. “It will be an asset to the community.”
The LHT program is held alternating years. The Chamber will begin accepting applications for the next class in February. For more information, click here.