Jun 30, 2010 7:40 pm US/Pacific
Richmond Woman Energizes Neighborhood Park Program
Jefferson Award Winner: Toody Maher
RICHMOND (CBS 5) ―
Toody Maher at the Elm Playlot in Richmond
It's warm summer day in Richmond. School is out, but there aren't any children at the park on Elm and 8th Streets.
"From this particular point, if you go on a seven minute walk in any direction, there are 3,488 kids between the age of 0 and 11," explains Toody Maher. "And they're all inside."
That's astounding to Toody, who grew up in Montreal, where community life revolved around parks. Now she lives in Richmond, just 18 blocks from a playlot in the heart of the "Iron Triangle," a neighborhood that's seen more than its share of crime.
"My feeling is that kids should not be locked inside in fear," Toody says sadly. "Come out and play! Let's make this place safe."
So Toody took her passion for parks and started knocking on neighborhood doors to find out what they envisioned in their own backyard.
"I was like, 'Who is this lady with all this talk!'" laughs Carmen Lee, who grew up on Elm Street. "At first I just thought, you know, 'Here comes another one, here comes another one,' but she meant it."
Carmen eventually joined Toody's Elm Playlot Action Committee and along with a handful of neighbors began a grassroots effort to design and build a new park.
At a donated trailer nearby, committee members have documented their progress over three years of planning. A handmade scale model shows what neighbors want: a safe, fenced play environment with at teepee, a rock grotto, and bike trail.
"This park is by the people, for the people," says Toody. "The residents of the neighborhood themselves are envisioning it, designing it, and building it."
Toody took time off from her consulting job to focus full time on working with city officials, getting funding, and bringing in experts like Ron Holtuhuysen, the artist who may be best known for designing and fabricating the giant mitt at AT&T park.
"The idea is that people from the neighborhood who you just met are going to build it and I will just help them," Ron explains. "That's an incredible example of how these things should be done. They normally never get done because of bureaucracies and funding."
"Toody is a woman of action," Carmen adds. "She talks the talk and she walks the walk and I will be forever grateful for Toody."
Neighbor and student Karina Guadalupe looks forward to completing the park within two years.
"Living here for as long as I have, I don't really know my neighbors," Karen says. :In the park, it would bring everybody closer. People are going to talk, get involved with each other, help each other out."
And that's the kind of partnership Toody has in mind.
"They have all the wisdom of the neighborhood," she says. "And when we meet in this special place, magic happens. 'Cause we can get things done!"
So for imagining and creating magic in a Bay Area neighborhood, this weeks efferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Toody Maher.
Toody would like to see this park be the first of many. To learn more or get involved, use this link.
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