Three years later, Mayfair gets its playground

“A promise kept. That’s what this is.”

Melinda Mulvenna, a co-chair for the Friends of Mayfair Memorial Playround, surveyed the playground that was furiously undergoing construction, with hundreds of volunteers milling around hauling mulch, assembling equipment and pushing wheelbarrows. The Mayfair Memorial Playground at Rowland Avenue and Vista Street, which was to be completed in only a matter of hours, had taken more than three years to get rebuilt after it had been torn down. And for Mulvenna, that was a personal triumph, as she was an indirect reason for the previous playground’s destruction.

“My daughter [Kaylee] was the one that was hurt. Her foot got caught in the padding and she fell into the monkey bars. Thank God it was only a black eye,” she said. “I called politicians and the mayor’s office; all I asked for was that the padding be repaired. I thought I was doing the right thing. One innocent phone call . . . it was demolished that April.”

Looking at the progress that had been made that morning, Mulvenna’s eyes became glassy. “Three years later, now look at it. We’re putting in a rumble slide for people with special needs. Our goal is to have everybody play. This is for kids with casts or wheelchairs, everyone. We even have Freddy the Firetruck for John Redmond, the firefighter who passed away and [for whom] this park is dedicated to for his service. We’re even painting his number on the side,” she said.

For Mayfair, getting to this day has been a long, arduous process. Before, in the times of former Pa. Rep. John Perzel, Mayfair might have gotten a check from the government, which was putting lots of resources into building up the community. But with Perzel’s indictment, all the funds had to come from donations and the community, which rose spectacularly to the challenge.

Joe DeFelice, president of the Mayfair Civic Association, talked about how the community became stronger as a result. “The people have just come out of the woodwork,” he said. “I’m getting phone calls [and] emails every day asking, ‘How can I help? How can I help?’ You know, from the trade unions to the different businesses in the neighborhood, it’s just been awesome.”

While the residents of Mayfair had been pushing on this project, fundraising and getting the word out constantly, the idea that it might finally come to fruition occurred when two sponsors got involved in the mix: Giant and KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to building playgrounds that are both innovative and inspiring to children, providing the youth of America with fun and games. According to the company mission, it envisions a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. And, accordingly, it makes the experience of building such places of mirth for children into something joyous and fun, blasting happy music and taking time out of their packed schedule for dance breaks.

“So two months ago, I came and had a design day with about 30 kids, and their creativity created this amazing playground that’s unique to Mayfair,” said Jennifer Leshnower, the petite and peppy project manager from the organization. “We took their drawings and put it into real life, so what you’re seeing is a culmination of a design day that took place around eight weeks ago. And between then and now, I’ve worked with a very dedicated and hardworking group of community members and Giant to plan this whole playground build.”

Giant, the corporate sponsor for the project, was thrilled to be able to reach out to the community. Employees, decked out in green shirts splayed with the store’s logo, were putting all their effort into the project. “I work at Giant, so we all came over to give some help,” said Alexis Edwards, a worker designated to the mulch team.

As everyone worked at their respective tasks, one woman in particular had an especially emotional reaction as she bustled from one team to another. “I’m anxious, excited, thrilled. I actually came to tears this morning because . . . it’s finally becoming a reality,” said Dana Lambie, the other co-chair of the Friends of Mayfair Memorial Playground. “I put my boys to bed last night and I said, ‘I’m not going to see you in the morning because I’m already going to be at the playground, but when I pick you up from school today, you can come see it.’ So they’re all excited.” Tearing up, she looked away and surveyed the massive swing set being put into place. A brilliant, huge smile lit up her face.

Kirsten Stamn is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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