Funding enables third Operation Hope playground

Posted on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

The efforts of one local organization to ensure disabled children have access to local playgrounds will extend to Courthouse Park this spring.

David Nigrelli, at right, of the Greater Richmond Civitan Club, presents Operation Hope co-founder Dana Nelson with a $30,000 check. The funding will help complete the organization’s mission to provide playground access to disabled children.

David Nigrelli, at right, of the Greater Richmond Civitan Club, presents Operation Hope co-founder Dana Nelson with a $30,000 check. The funding will help complete the organization’s mission to provide playground access to disabled children.

Operation Hope recently received the last bit of funding it needed to complete its vision in Hanover County. Last week David Nigrelli, of the Greater Richmond Civitan Club, presented Operation Hope cofounder Dana Nelson with a $30,000 check.

“This money here will bring us to a total of $350,000 that was raised for these parks,” Nelson said.

Operation Hope was established in 2004 by Nelson and Katie Stilwell, a former employee of Nelson’s at Commonwealth Wholesale and a student at Christopher Newport University, who was interested in getting involved in a community project.

Nelson recommended she visit the Katie and Friends all-inclusive playground in Chesterfield and Operation Hope grew from there, with Stilwell helping raise the initial funding.

Operation Hope broke ground on its first playground at Pole Green Park in 2007, later adding another at Poor Farm Park. Both all-inclusive sites were in use by 2010.

Originally, Nelson said his group wanted to expand its current playground at Poorfarm Park in Ashland. But in talks with the county’s parks and recreation department, Nelson was informed that the funds would be better utilized at Courthouse Park off of Route 301 because the Poor Farm site was being underused.

The Mechanicsville and Hanover Rotary Clubs were heavily involved in construction and fundraising for the first two parks. The Civitans are the latest service group to help with Operation Hope.

“The overwhelming amount of community involvement has been tremendous,” Nelson said.

Nigrelli said his club’s roots go back to 1923 and is a local chapter of Civitan International, a community service group with an emphasis on helping those with disabilities.

Nigrelli added that the Civitans are a “very hands-on organization” and his club looks forward to breaking ground on the project in early spring.

Funding came through Civitan’s Chesapeake District Foundation, which covers clubs throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nigrelli said that after he learned how close Operation Hope was to its final fundraising goal, he urged his club to “step up to the plate to do something.”

“Our club is very small, we do not have much in the bank, but the foundation allows clubs to submit grants for projects that benefit the community, in particular, those with disabilities,” he said.

Funding was approved late last year, one of the largest grants awarded by the foundation, Nigrelli said.

For Nelson, the grant brings to a close a 10-year effort to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

“It’s taken 10 years and its great to see it come to a close,” Nelson said. “It really couldn’t have been done if it wasn’t for the involvement of so many people.”

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