A Dream Coming True

Written by ANNIKA BAHNSEN. Published by Santa Barbara News-Press

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal delivered $1.5 million in federal funds Friday to the Dwight Murphy Field and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation.

The goal of this funding is to turn the existing park into a space where all families, including those with disabilities, can use the park to its full capacity. The improvements include the all-inclusive Gwendolyn’s Playground.

“This vision will take an already great park and make it extraordinary by transforming this park into a park that’s cutting-edge in terms of a recreation that is inclusive and accessible to those of all ages,” Rep. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, said during a news conference. “This will enrich our community in so many ways and provide so many opportunities.”

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, founded by Victoria and Bill Strong, and the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department partnered together in 2018 to kickstart the idea for Gwendolyn’s Playground. Now, almost five years later, the project is in full motion with this donation. 

Some features that will be built at the park include a multi-sport turf field, a cafe, inclusive park equipment, a music garden, diversity programming and art sculptures. Additionally, the park will build new sidewalks throughout the entirety of the property, something that the park currently lacks.

These features only scratch the surface of what the foundation is hoping to build. 

When asked why he was so excited to be involved at this park, Rep. Carbajal exclaimed, “Families are going to want to come back over and over again, because this will be an exceptional area to be!”

Additionally, the congressman noted that Laura Capps, the 2nd District supervisor who sits on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, was the person who originally put this idea on his desk and urged her to say a few words as well.

Ms. Capps shared her involvement with the crowd. “I am a mom and I would see Victoria and her family at church and have a human reaction to what they have done for this community. I am so proud of Santa Barbara and can’t wait to see what happens to this already sacred space.”

Jill Zachary, the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation director, added to the eager voice of the congressman.

“It is amazing to be where we are with this today,” she said. “We have our project approvals. We are finishing our construction plans and documents, and we are just putting together the dollars to make it happen.” 

Victoria Strong spoke at the event, sharing her elation for this next step in the building process as well as her gratitude toward the city. 

“I am so proud of Santa Barbara. The leadership, the businesses, and our families have rallied around this project with so much enthusiasm. The fact that we are building an inclusive park says a lot about the city’s values,” she said. “We are shouting from the mountain tops to the rest of the nation what is truly possible in public spaces when we come together in celebration of our shared humanity and in the many ways we are unique.”

Others at Friday’s event included Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse, City Councilmembers Eric Friedman and Oscar Gutierrez, as well as Gwendolyn’s Playground Advisory Board: Analise Maggio, Beth Magid, Cristina Bentley, Erin Galbraith, Erinn Lynch, Grace Fisher, Ivana Firestone, Jenny Deakyne, Jillian Pirozzi, JJ McLeod, Katie Crocker, Katrina Sprague, Karie Ide, Kelly Almeroth, Laura Capps, Marina Delio, Robin Himovitz, Ronda Fallon, Sarah Paskin, Sylvie Rich.

For a full list of the park’s features as well as ways you can get involved, visit nevergiveup.org/playground.