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By: Ashley Jhaveri

Marshall Park Ribbon Cutting

Saturday, September 9 at 10AM

Marshall Park
1015 E. McLoughlin Blvd.

There is something magical about spaces that welcome everyone. Elizabeth Austin recognized this while raising her twin boys. She carted them to many parks in Clark County, including Marshall Park. Sadly, she couldn’t find anything they loved as much as Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland, which featured a fully inclusive playground.

Elizabeth was onto something. Vancouver was home to 70 parks with play equipment at the time, and none were fully accessible to children with wheelchairs and physical disabilities. Arbor Lodge Park was different because it was the first project and inspiration for Harper’s Playground, a nonprofit that makes play accessible to all through its Radically Inclusive Model.

Elizabeth shared the same vision and wanted a space in Vancouver where kids of all abilities could immerse themselves in creative, imaginative play. She was active in the community and had a family fund with the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. So, she decided to reach out to ask how she could make a fully accessible park possible for kids and families in Clark County. 

Community Foundation Paves the Way

Our Senior Philanthropic Officer, Anne Digenis, was her first call. Part of Anne’s job, and something she’s very good at, is to connect donors and nonprofits who share the same goals and passions. So, when Anne heard about Elizabeth’s dream, she knew just what to do. 

Anne introduced Elizabeth to G Cody QJ Goldberg, the Co-Founder and Chief Play Officer of Harper’s Playground. Next, Anne contacted Julie Hannon, who was the Director of Vancouver Parks and Recreation at the time. After forging these initial connections, Anne ushered the project along as a liaison and trusted partner. The first order of business was finding a suitable location that was also on the city’s schedule for an upgrade. 

As fate would have it, a site was ready for a major overhaul. The Marshall Park playground offers a natural setting, accessibility to public transit and close proximity to the Marshall Community Center. The site also offered an opportunity to build on its inspiring history of community involvement. 

A hardhat tour group standing in front of the memorial wall at CHAMPS

A hardhat tour group at CHAMPS prior to its completion.

Rallying Support for Marshall Park

Elizabeth and her husband Sean Kuni made a significant commitment from their Donor Advised Fund to become the lead funders on the project. Through Anne’s outreach, more of our donors caught wind of the project and invested in the shared vision. In addition, the proposed redesign won a Washington State Community Project Grant, and collaborative efforts brought in contributions of all sizes. 

CFSWW funds that supported the Marshall Park project:

  • The Kuni-Austin Family Fund
  • Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund
  • Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund
  • Wayne D. Kuni and Joan E. Kuni Family Fund
  • Kenneth E. and Eunice M. Terer Charitable Fund
  • Carolyn Reynolds Charitable
  • Goodwin Family Charitable Fund
  • Open your own fund with us →

 

The time and effort for planning, designing and constructing Vancouver’s largest, fully inclusive playground was immense. Beyond accessibility, the various partners were also mindful of honoring the history and love embodied in the original Chelsea Anderson Memorial Play Station. The park’s scope, timeline and, accordingly, its price tag evolved to ensure the best possible outcome. Through it all, the community continued to show up and support.

Celebrating Marshall Park and An Enduring Legacy

Today, a 53,000-square-foot Harper’s Playground serves as the centerpiece of Marshall Park. This weekend (Saturday, September 9 at 10 a.m.), the community will celebrate this incredible project with a ribbon cutting.

Everyone is invited to attend and help celebrate the power of play, the strength of community and the shared vision of a more inclusive southwest Washington. Team members from Harper’s Playground and the Community Foundation will be on hand, as well as city officials, community advocates and partners who made the project possible. 

One very important face will be missing from the crowd though. During the planning and construction, Elizabeth’s family—and our community—lost her generous, welcoming spirit. For a community builder and champion of inclusive spaces, the gathering and playground will serve as an incredible tribute. Elizabeth’s legacy will also live on through the strong partnerships she helped establish, which continue to expand the number of accessible playgrounds across Vancouver.

The Vision at Play

We don’t have to imagine what that means for our region any longer, because you can witness the magic on any given weekend. The re-designed Marshall Park is buzzing with activity—sparking wonder and connecting people of all ages and abilities. A zero-entry “integration” carousel, adaptive teeter-totter and SW Washington’s first wheelchair swing allow those with wheelchairs to join in the fun.

The design also carries forward the Chelsea Anderson Memorial and fire department theme, including a new custom fire truck art feature. Kids can enjoy an elevated wet sand area, a log fort and sensory garden, and musical instruments. All this activity revolves around the largest Harper’s Hill built to date, allowing for endless hours of sliding, rolling and frolicking. The space will also feature murals and bronze “critters” to inspire awe and wonder.

It’s an experience you must see for yourself. As you take it all in, remember that every smile and new connection is a sign of what we can accomplish when we all work, and play, together.

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You can check out Harper’s Playground online. This local nonprofit is driven by the vision of a world in which everyone is included, and they create playgrounds where people of all abilities connect through play and thrive.  

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About The Author

Ashley Jhaveri

Ashley Jhaveri graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design. Her passion for people and creative problem-solving make her a great fit as our team's Digital Communications Specialist.