CHAMPAIGN – After countless hours of grass-roots efforts, the Dobbins Downs neighborhood in the northern part of the city likely will be getting a park on Sept. 25, a project two years in the making.
The Dobbins Downs Community Improvement Association, a nonprofit group the residents formed to formalize their efforts, learned Thursday that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois will contribute the "majority of funds" toward the purchase of playground equipment.
The neighborhood is without a park, and lacks a safe place for kids to play and parents to gather, said Leslie Kimble, president of the neighborhood association.
Dobbins Downs is outside the limits of the Champaign Park District, and much of the subdivision is on unincorporated county land. The Champaign County Board last week approved an agreement to lease a piece of empty land to the group for $50 per year.
Kimble said the support the group has found "brings tears" to her eyes.
"I think it was a huge relief just to know that we have so many resources coming to our aid, just to know that there's an amazing support through Blue Cross Blue Shield and KaBOOM!," she said.
KaBOOM! is a Washington-based nonprofit that coordinates park builds between residents and sponsors. The group has helped build more than 1,800 playgrounds since its inception in 1996, said Mike Vietti, communications manager for KaBOOM!.
Vietti said the Dobbins Downs park is part of a larger partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, which this year will fund a total of eight parks throughout Illinois, including Springfield on Sept. 25.
Vietti said his organization "scoured" the area for potential sites and identified Dobbins Downs as an underserved neighborhood.
"These are communities that are in desperate need of a playground, and that's the case in Champaign," Vietti said.
KaBOOM! representatives will be in Champaign on Monday to facilitate a "design day," Vietti said.
"Children from the area will spend an hour or so drawing their dream playground," Vietti said.
From there, planners will look for common themes, equipment and colors in the drawings and incorporate those ideas into the playground.
And the neighborhood group's work is far from complete, Kimble said. The association has agreed to contribute $7,500 from its own accounts to the project, plus other miscellaneous associated costs. Kimble said the group is still asking for monetary donations as it closes in on that number.
The group needs to find more than 100 volunteers to help build the park on Sept. 25 and is making a plea to the community for donations of in-kind services like food and drink, Dumpsters, Porta-Potties, tables and chairs that will be needed on the build day.
Members of the group will be responsible for long-term maintenance of the park, according to the agreement with the county. Kimble said the neighborhood group is prepared to shoulder that responsibility and will continue its fundraising efforts on an annual basis.
The group has considered naming the park for Mable Thomas, a recently deceased neighborhood coordinator for the city of Champaign, Kimble said. The Blue Cross Blue Shield and KaBOOM! logos would also be listed as sponsors on park signs.
Kimble said it is a relief to know that the neighborhood will be getting a park.
"It brings tears to my eyes and it just gives me goose bumps to think about how awesome this project is going to be," Kimble said.