Imagine Hillsboro's (Reinventing) Central Park committee asked the community to get involved during the group's launch party, the official start of their large-scale renovation project, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.
Four short weeks later, CARE (Community, Autism, Resource, Education) heeded their call, presenting a $10,000 donation to the committee. Gene Knisley, owner of Knisley's Hillsboro Bowl, presented the generous donation to the Central Park committee on Wednesday, Jan. 15, on behalf of the CARE organization.
The local non-profit was founded in 2014, by the Knisley family, to help provide local resources for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special needs.
The group works with area educators to improve the quality of learning tools, purchase necessary equipment and provide resources for special needs students within Montgomery County. Care patronizes these initiatives by fundraising. The group's primary fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner and crazy bowl held at Knisley's Hillsboro Bowl each April.
The renovation plan for Central Park hinges on an inclusive playground, purposefully designed to be a third-space where all children, regardless of differing needs, will be able to interact and engage with each other. Third space is a concept identified by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his anthropological book The Great Good Place, first published in 1989.
In the book, Oldenburg suggests that third spaces, such as coffeehouses, pubs, libraries and parks are integral aspects of a thriving community as they offer a neutral public space for all individuals to informally connect and establish bonds. The committee sees Central Park as not only a potential third space in the city, but one that should be intentionally designed to include all members of the community.
"Third spaces are an integral necessity in helping Hillsboro renew itself. In the past, people relied on traditional social structures to help develop communal bonds, however the generations following the Baby Boomers are less likely to join formal social clubs. They would rather meet people at coffee houses, school functions and other informal gatherings," said Community Planner Jonathan Weyer. "Hillsboro's lack of third spaces creates a significant problem that affects all levels of the city, from volunteering for civic organizations to simply getting to know our neighbors. A reinvented Central Park will go a long way in addressing this gap. In creating a new third space, the committee is dedicated to building a place that is welcoming to all residents, especially those with additional needs who are often socially excluded. We want Central Park to reflect Hillsboro's values and spirit of inclusivity."
The plans for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant play area include slides, climbing areas, interactive panels, monkey bars, a wheelchair ramp, saddle spinner and a three panel sensory wall. As well as a seven-place swing set with two multi-user swings, two full bucket seats, two ADA compliant swings and one friendship swing and ADA compliant wood carpet and a pour-in-place surface.
The CARE organization has designated their $10,000 donation to be used towards the purchase of sensory and ADA compliant equipment.
"Creating inclusive areas for people to come together is extremely important to all of the members on the CARE board. We have discussed providing equipment for special needs children for a long time. When we found out about the Central Park project and the committee's desire to create an inclusive space in Hillsboro we wanted to get involved," said Knisley.
CARE's donation is the committee's first Corporate Silver Level donor. In addition to the group's fundraising efforts, the Central Park Committee has developed a three tiered structure to help fund the project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $360,000.
"The plan is still in the design phase," said Kendra Wright, Central Park Committee member and head of the city's Natural Resources Committee. "We know that funding this project is going to take a coordinated effort from the community. Our hope is that local businesses, organizations and individuals will join the City and Imagine Hillsboro in making the reinvention a reality."
The Corporate tier is the highest tier and is broken up into four brackets, Platinum sponsors who donate $50,000 or more, Gold sponsors who donate a minimum of $25,000, Silver sponsors who donate a minimum of $10,000 and Bronze sponsors who donate a minimum of $5,000. The Private Individual tier is the next level of funding. Brackets include Citizen sponsors who donate a minimum of $1,000, Partner sponsors who donate a minimum of $500 and Friend sponsors who donate a minimum of $100. The third level is to buy a piece of the park, and includes purchases such as trash cans, benches, tables and trees with donations ranging from $400 to $620.
At the check presentation Knisley issued a good-natured challenge to fellow organizations, "CARE made the first donation and I challenge other organizations to step up to the plate and do the same. Its an investment in our community and our children."
For information on how to get involved or to make a donation contact Wright at 217-556-6890 or message the Reinventing Central Park page on Facebook. Checks may be made payable to Imagine Hillsboro, PO Box 234, Hillsboro, IL 62049.
"Our vision is for Central Park to once again be a hub in the community," Wright explained. "With that in mind, our goal is for this to truly be a community driven project with civic groups, schools, businesses and individuals all coming together to renovate the park. We envision Central Park as a place of pride for Hillsboro, an example of what we can accomplish when we all work together."