The Town of Sewall’s Point has some extraordinary residents in its three square miles. These residents stepped up to assist the Town by adding a much-needed new playground at the one park within the Town’s boundaries. The existing playground was in poor shape and deteriorating quickly, with sections closed off or removed until it was fully closed due to safety concerns. Through partnerships, donations and volunteers’ hard work, the Town provided a safe community play center for its children.

Sewall’s Point has the lowest millage rate in the region, at 2.87 mills. While this benefits the property owners, it can create challenges when new capital projects are desired. In 2017, residents approached then Mayor Paul Luger and the Town Commission to discuss the potential of partnering to build a new playground. For the Town’s part, they committed to budgeting $25,000 per year toward the playground. The volunteers committed to vetting playground designs and ensuring they would be appropriate for the Town’s children and the small park while fitting in with the Town’s natural aesthetic. They also committed to fundraising efforts and hoped to gather small donations along the way.

That partnership picked up speed over the next two years and culminated in a spirited series of fundraisers in 2019 and 2020. Donating to the playground was made simpler when the volunteers enlisted the technical assistance offered by The Community Foundation Martin – St. Lucie. This nonprofit organization in Martin County and St. Lucie County assists groups with fundraising via social media and the internet by providing a secure way to receive, collect and transfer donations for a small fee.

The group of volunteers, led by a trio of active mothers in the Town, hosted the first large public fundraiser at a local restaurant in 2019. Vinny Barile, the Town’s Mayor at the time, donated toward the restaurant expenses. The restaurant reduced its fees for some services, and the mothers and other town volunteers paid for the remaining balance of the event. The event reinforced the Town’s and volunteers’ shared vision, with over $15,000 raised throughout the evening.

The second large fundraiser included a more strategic approach by the volunteers. With Town Commission approval, the volunteers executed a follow-up fundraiser that allowed naming rights for sections of the playground. Brick pavers, fence posts, even climbing walls were up for offer and could carry the donator’s family name with the proper donation. This open house-style fundraiser was held at a resident’s home in February 2020 and resulted in approximately $25,000 raised.

What started as a three-year town budget commitment of $25,000 per year and a group of volunteers committed to raising funds resulted in a townwide effort that shared the burden and reaped the rewards together! A few volunteers with a lot of energy, town pride and belief that the children’s playground was important led a movement that successfully addressed the local need. The fundraising over three years exceeded $50,000, which contributed about 30% of the total funds needed to satisfy the proposal for the playground. The Town Commission, led by former Mayor Frank Fender, voted in May 2020 for the replacement playground with a contracted total of under $200,000.

The fun didn’t end with the fundraiser events; it continued with the collaborative efforts to create the park’s dedicated spaces, memorializing the collective town spirit. In early 2021, Mayor Kaija Mayfield worked with the volunteers to install personalized brick pavers along a pathway leading to the playground. These brick pavers were part of the fundraising mechanism used by the volunteers to gain support within the community. Another area of dedication was the immediate entry to the park, lined by personalized fence posts that commemorate the donators’ commitment to the park and its new playground.

The ceremonial grand opening of the playground occurred in May 2021. The Mayor and Commissioners, joined by Luger and leaders from the volunteer group, joyfully cut a yellow ribbon to the playground entrance. Mayfield said, “The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the playground was a very gratifying event for not only current and prior commissioners, but also volunteers and residents. The new playground was supported, facilitated and approved by the Commission, but the heart and soul of the project belonged to the volunteers, families and residents of Sewall’s Point.”

The shared vision, burden and victory all began, endured and culminated inside the boundaries of the Town of Sewall’s Point. The playground project is a testament to the unique sense of community that exists within this very special town. This public-private partnership model with volunteerism as the backbone can be adapted by any town, city or village.

By Michelle Lee Berger

Michelle Lee Berger is the Town Manager for Sewall’s Point. The Town of Sewall’s Point. population 2,127, is located in Martin County.