In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Sarah Farzayee, a member of the McLean Central Playground Team [MCPT]. MCPT is a grass-roots group of local parent volunteers with a common goal of seeing growth in the McLean community. They came together after discovering a need for outdoor play spaces for McLean children to gather and play. They are working in partnership with Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax County Park Foundation to help with the planning and fundraising for a new McLean Central Park playground.
Q. Tell me the story of the McLean Central Playground Team.
We’re all mothers, we’re all local mothers. Cara Schantz began this years-long initiative to raise $400,000 after she moved here from Arlington. Arlington has amazing playgrounds and so that’s what she was used to, that’s what her kids were used to. They moved here and she was really surprised. She ended up driving back to Arlington almost every day to use the playgrounds and she said “We really deserve better. This shouldn’t be the case.” She started the process on seeing how the renovation works — learning a little bit more about the process with the Fairfax County Park Authority. She learned that playgrounds are up for renovation every 20 years. This specific playground is 19 years old. It’s right around that time where they’re going to renovate it.
Q. What will the $400,000 add to the renovated playground that the Fairfax County Parks Authority’s revamp wouldn’t have included?
Fairfax County Parks Authority came up with a design and said, if you want anything additional, you have to raise the funds for it. If you don’t want the mulch, if you want it to be more inclusive or wheelchair accessible, or if you want a fence, or if you want to combine the two playgrounds together, then you will have to raise the funds for that. [Installed in 1998 and 2002, respectively, the playground and tot lot are on opposite ends of the park.] The original design was really just renovating it.
We combined our ideas to create a completely new, inclusive and safer playground. [A revised concept combines the playgrounds in a roughly 6,300-square-foot area where the tot lot is currently located.]
The playground will become more accessible and inclusive. The new equipment that we’re adding is going to be wheelchair accessible. We’re removing the mulch and we’re replacing it with rubber flooring so that the wheels of a wheelchair could easily access the equipment. We will add sensory toys as well as sensory equipment. It’s really going to be fully inclusive to all children, all capabilities. I think that’s something that is so important. I know we have Clemyjontri and we’ve discussed this. This has been a big, big question: “You already have Clemyjontri. Why do you want another one?” We don’t want another Clemyjontri. We just want a local, small community neighborhood park that all children can access. We shouldn’t have just one playground for children to access. The Clemyjontri Park attracts a lot of families from all over the area. Anytime we’re there, we bump into families who are coming from Maryland or from Fairfax or from all different cities and it’s really hard to connect and stay connected and schedule play dates and get our kids to hang out again because of that distance. With this playground, it’s local, it’s within the community, you’re going to run into kids from your kids’ school, families that live across the street from you. We need that.
Q. Why is it important to combine the two existing playgrounds into one?
My kids are are six years apart. I have a younger one and then I have a much older one. Whenever we visit the playground, my older one would have to be with the younger one and he will get bored after a minute. I’m sure there are so many other families who are in that same position. Combining the two playgrounds into one playground is so much more convenient for families and good for the kids because they get to use equipment that’s age appropriate. Whereas my son would just end up having to babysit my younger one or just sit at a bench. He usually bring his own ball and just kicks the ball around. That is a big benefit to it.
McLean Central Park Team unites at a Barbie screening playground fundraiser at the CMX CinéBistro Tysons Galleria, hosted by McLean Living Magazine. The MCPT [pictured above left to right]: Lacey Obry, Sarah Farzayee, Jenny Gregory, Jessica Wu, Cara Schantz, Angie Golder — not pictured Rebecca Antzoulatos.
Q. Where are you now in your fundraising and what is your deadline for raising the additional funds to make the renovated park inclusive?
Our deadline was in March of 2023 of this year. [The Park Authority] gave us a deadline of December 31st. We are at 75% right now which honestly, I don’t know if anyone thought we would have been able to do that because that’s quite an amount. We’re over that 50%. We’re still waiting for a few more larger donations, but with that it’ll help us push us forward. [The new central playground will cost approximately $675,000 — more than the park authority anticipated when it obtained $2.2 million in bond funding for the McLean Central redevelopment, which also calls for an amphitheater, pickleball courts and new walkways. With the county covering 41% of the playground costs, the moms have committed to funding the remaining $395,679, including all the new tot lot surfacing and equipment.]
Q. How did you get personally involved in the project?
I met Lacey [Lacey Obry, who created Instagram and Facebook profiles for the team as well as a website where people can donate directly to the Fairfax County Park Foundation] because our sons were in the same preschool. I read about this playground on Tyson’s Reporter [website]. I saw Lacey’s photo and I said, Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you’re doing something about this because this has been a playground that has bothered me since the day we moved here. My husband likes to joke that I have a personal vendetta against the playground. He’s like, Why does it bother you so much? I’m like, It’s just so poorly designed. I’m the one who’s always there with the kids.
Q. What is the timeline? When will be park be built?
They’re going to begin construction in January and by summer it should be completed.
Q. Has raising funds been challenging? Do you have a background in fundraising?
I just have experience with PTA fundraising. We came on board without any experience and we’re learning as we go. I think I have never been said “no” to this many times in my life. That’s the most challenging thing — not feeling defeated. With our group, if one person has a personal connection with a business, then they’re the one who reaches out for fundraising efforts. For the most part, we do a little bit of everything. We go door to door, we do emails, we do phone calls, everything. We start with emails and follow up with phone call and if that doesn’t work we stop by.
Q. What have been your most successful fundraisers?
Our most successful event was at Divan restaurant. They were very, very generous. They donated a very large percentage to us of their sales — and it was for three days. That was very rare because we have not had that success with any of our other restaurant [fundraisers]. We had a big turnout for Kosmo Nail Bar. We recently did a fundraiser at ShipGarten that was a great one because we got to attract a new audience. Typically we would have family members or mothers, but over there the audience was so different and so vast. That was successful, not financially, but through that aspect, in a different way. Another successful fundraiser was an event hosted by McLean Living Magazine. It was the Barbie screening and that was that was a great great event where we we got to meet. McLean Living has a very large audience so they really helped get the word out. This was at the CMX Theater in [Tysons] Galleria.
Q. Are you offering up any sponsorship opportunities for donors?
Sponsorship opportunities begin at $5,000. We will have a wall and each leaf, donations of $5,000 small dogwood leaf; medium maple leaf $10,000; large leaf $15,000 — and those leaves are local leaves in the playground. We incorporated some nature and educational aspect to it. At $20,000, our donors will receive a bench [only two left] — larger donors, $40,000, will receive a table [only four left]. Right now they have the wooded tables, but the new tables will be resin. We’ll be adding new benches, new tables as well.
Q. After this project is complete, will “The Team” continue your McLean advocacy and move onto another project?
We ended up becoming really close friends throughout all of this, that’s why I’m trying to get us to tackle something new. There’s a lot of things in McLean. I actually see this as a turning point for our community because when I moved here just recently, five years ago, I struggled with finding young families, young mothers, and even young children that my kids can connect with and have scheduled play dates with. Within the past five years, I’ve seen such an increase, so many more younger families, younger generations moving in, deciding to raise their kids here just like us. I feel like this is really a turning point for the community where you now have a group of young mothers, young children who say, “There’s some changes that we need to make”; “This is not working” or “This can be better.” This project in itself is really, really special in that sense because it’s a turning point for the community. It’s kind of welcoming, bringing in the newer generation, the change that comes with the new generation.
BY: GAYLE JO CARTER
Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.
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