Marblehead Family Fund isn’t just fun and games

The Marblehead Family Fund is at a bit of an inflection point. The fund, which is now in its 25th year, raises money for the renovation and upkeep of playgrounds across town, and also sponsors the annual Pumpkin Illumination and Gingerbread Festival each fall as part of those fundraising efforts.

In 2021, the fund completed a $300,000 renovation of the Hobbs Playground — overhauling the play space at Brook Road and Ware Lane to feature new equipment and creating a more inclusive space. With that project now in the rearview mirror, the fund is plotting out its goals moving forward, which may include another wholesale renovation or smaller projects that touch several different areas across town.

“The large capital campaign and push and efforts that went into the Hobbs rebuild kind of left us starting a little bit over from that sort of capital building and planning phase,” Fund Board member Meghan Tosto explained. “Once we’ve landed on a final project, that will help us better identify the full scope and scale of a future capital campaign to support a playground project.”

In the short to medium term, Tosto said, the fund will continue to support its community-based events that in turn support fundraising and capital building. But, the fund’s members have also begun discussions about taking on smaller projects rather than full-scale renovations akin to the Hobbs project. That might mean the fund is responsible more for repairing and replacing equipment in pieces rather than all at once.

To that end, the fund has plans to conduct walkthroughs of all of the playgrounds overseen by the Recreation and Parks Department.

“That’s a really valuable way to potentially determine the next project,” Tosto said.

Founded in 1998 by a group of mothers, the fund is also responsible for previous renovations at the Gerry Playground on Stramski Way, Devereux Beach, Bud Orne, Seaside, the Telescope at Chandler Hovey Park, and the Spyglass at Fort Sewell. While the town is responsible for upkeep at its parks, no line item exists in the operating budget for maintenance or repairs — and so the Family Fund was born.

The fund remains “in lockstep” with the Recreation and Parks Department, fellow Board member Meghan Gainor said, adding that the department often serves as the fund’s eyes and ears as it tracks playgrounds across town.

For Gainer, volunteering for the fund was a no-brainer.

“Nobody sees the value until you see your child playing on a playground with equipment that you are questioning whether or not you need a tetanus shot to be playing on or it’s clearly unsafe, or you have a child who has special needs that goes to a playground and can’t actually play on anything,” she said. “That’s when it becomes valuable and that’s really why the people who volunteer for Marblehead Family Fund are the people that see that value and say ‘I want to do something about this. I want to make a difference.’”

And, she said more and more people across town are recognizing that value of having an organization like Marblehead Family Fund — evidenced best, perhaps, by the fact that the fund raised $300,000 for the Hobbs renovation.

“No small feat,” Gainer said.

“It really is an important space to get our kids outside playing in a safe and inclusive environment,” she added.

Fellow Board member Laney Dowling noted that the Gingerbread Festival and Pumpkin Illumination have become important annual traditions in town, and without the Family Fund, they would simply no longer exist.

“There’s the value [of the fund] right there,” she said.

Dowling, Gainer, and Tonto are mothers themselves, but all three were quick to note that volunteering is not exclusively limited to mothers and encouraged entire families to get involved.

Tonto is the most recent member of the bunch, and said she began volunteering after seeing the Hobbs rebuild in action. Dowling is the veteran of the trio, having been a member for roughly five years, with Gainer not far behind, having begun volunteering four years ago.

Each woman had different reasons for wanting to join up, but a common thread between all three was a desire to step up and serve the community.

“It’s a way to be involved, it’s a way to establish relationships and friendships throughout town while also doing good and being able to look at your kids and say, ‘Look, mommy helped do this,’” Gainer said. “That is at the core of why a lot of people want to be part of Marblehead Family Fund.”