Gwendolyn’s Playground Hits $6MM Funding Goal

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation is thrilled to announce it has hit its $6MM capital campaign goal to create the firest fully accessible and inclusive playground located in Santa Barbara.

A second significant donation from the Manitou Fund as guided by Nora McNeely Hurley – with contributions totaling $2,050,000, including the underwriting of the playground’s Magical Tree – carried the campaign over the finish line.

In 2018, the foundation launched this capital campaign to create the first and largest inclusive playground on the Central Coast. In partnership with Parks and Recreation, Gwendolyn’s Playground is an integral component of a re-imagined 10-acre public space, which includes building new year-round tournament-grade sports fields, a fitness area, walking paths, picnicking, and more at Dwight Murphy Field, an area one block from East Beach and directly across from the Santa Barbara Zoo. This redevelopment will foster tourism, community engagement, and will be a popular highlight of our beautiful city.

“Our hearts are full of awe and pride for this community, who rallied from all corners to help us realize this vision,” said Victoria Strong. “Local leaders, the business community, philanthropists, and thousands of families came together with a common passion and goal to create a magical, empowering, and inclusive destination for all children. We are eternally grateful to the Manitou Fund for their tremendous gift, and for every single gesture that was offered to our effort – from lemonade stand profits and piggy bank coins to corporate and nonprofit grants and matching contributions.”

With construction anticipated to commence in 2024, Gwendolyn’s Playground is a place to spark wonder in every age. Their custom, one-of-a-kind multi-story Magical Tree is the centerpiece of this space, filled with imaginative play, STEAM interactive experiences, and allowing for the exploration and full accessibility of every visitor. Other features include inclusive swings, sensory spinning, a butterfly plaza, art sculptures, a musical garden, a slide hillside, climbing features and much more.

“I am inspired as much by the way this campaign galvanized the community toward a common goal as I am the enchanting features of Gwendolyn’s Playground,” said Nora McNeely Hurley, adding that witnessing the tremendous passion for the cause at November’s Butterfly Ball is what inspired a second contribution. “The Manitou Fund’s support of Gwendolyn Playground is not a gift, but an investment in the standard we hold for this special corner of the world. Unbridled, unrestricted, and totally inclusive play is what truly fosters social growth, empathy, and joy. Its impact ripples out and benefits us all; it elevates us as a society.”

With the playground fully funded, the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation will pivot focus on its $2.5MM endowment efforts, which will support long-term maintenance and future equipment needs along with programming to dismantle stigma, bring the community together in joy, and foster connection through our shared humanity. 

“Gwendolyn’s Playground endowment fund will allow the space to evolve with emerging needs and technologies and remain a dynamic inclusive destination for generations to come,” added Strong. “Magical joy will always be the key element, as guided and inspired by Gwendolyn’s beautiful spirit.”

The connected baseball field, multi-sport field, and family pavilion are still looking for support in the range of $4MM with naming opportunities. Congressman Salud Carbajal recently secured $1.5MM in federal funding for Parks and Recreation’s commitment to necessary infrastructure renovations. Parks and Recreation is applying for additional state and federal funding to finalize the remaining costs.