Hartford Foundation Grant to Support Construction of Universally Accessible Playground for East Hartford’s Pitkin Elementary School

Parent-led nonprofit with community support collaborates with anonymous donor to raise more than $400,000 to create playground

Many children with disabilities in East Hartford are currently unable to use any of the playground equipment at Pitkin Elementary School. As the designated elementary school in town with a medically fragile classroom, 11 students at the school use wheelchairs or other devices for mobility. One impacted student raised this issue with Pitkin School parents, describing how she and her fellow classmates could not even access the play space due to a steep slope and woodchips, and instead were isolated on the schoolyard blacktop. In October 2017, a group of mothers began to investigate ways to raise funds to build a universally accessible playground that would provide East Hartford families with a place to play that was easily reached via public transportation.

Over the next year and a half, three Pitkin School mothers: Lizzette Smith, Lauren Dobson and Dorothy Bromfield created a registered nonprofit, Pitkin Playground Inc., worked with school staff and began organizing fundraising events. Various basketball tournaments, school spirit weeks and craft fairs raised more than $21,000. These events generated significant community buy-in, with local organizations and residents offering broad support for the construction of the new playground. The efforts of these dedicated parents inspired an anonymous donation of $381,000 from an individual who volunteers at Pitkin. The donor promised the gift if the playground committee could raise the balance of funding.

In support of this community-wide effort to provide recreational access for all of East Hartford’s children, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has awarded a $75,000 grant to Pitkin Playground, Inc. Foundation funding will be used to support a portion of the playground equipment, rubberized flooring, fencing, a gazebo and shading. The Foundation funds also enabled the nonprofit to leverage the anonymous donation to complete the budget for the playground.

”Our mission is to promote a safe and barrier-free world, where all of our children can play together and build new friendships on a boundless playground,” said Smith, Dobson and Bromfield. “With that being said, we would like to thank our very generous anonymous donor, the staff and families at Pitkin School, the East Hartford Community and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for believing in our vision and helping this playground come to fruition. -Pitkin Playground Inc.”

To ensure that this new playground responded to the recreational needs of all of East Hartford’s children, the Pitkin Playground Inc. gathered community input through focus groups, social media outreach and other means to determine design priorities. The design meets the identified needs and will include ample shaded areas, doublewide ramps, a sensory wall, a gazebo with seating, and other freestanding equipment to support development in children. The playground will include a covered space for community activities, and its location has been donated by the City of East Hartford and will be maintained by the East Hartford Board of Education. Pitkin Playground Inc. has selected Landscape Structures to build the project from among three vendors who submitted designs and price quotes.

Groundbreaking for the project will occur in March 2020 and is estimated to be completed by the end of April 2020. The playground will be able to accommodate more than 160 children, with elements for children ranging in age from 2-12. The playground will be wheelchair accessible from the road and parking lot, allowing access for children and caregivers, including those who may use wheelchairs.

“The Hartford Foundation is pleased to support this community-wide, parent-led effort to ensure that all of East Hartford’s children have access to recreational facilities,” said Hartford Foundation Senior Community Investments Officer Megan Burke. “We are also pleased that this grant will leverage the generous private donation to complete the budget for the playground.”

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $750 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.