Parents in Fort Lauderdale will soon have an LGBT-safe place to take their children to play.
On October 16, the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors will become the first LGBT campus in the U.S. with a playground, offering parents a place to connect and share tips, a space to grow and have fun.
The Pride Center has launched a $75,000 fundraising challenge and is seeking volunteers to help build the interactive playground, which will be about half the size of an NBA basketball court.
“It’s going to take a village and for everyone to get on board,” said Kristofer Fegenbush, COO of the Pride Center at Equality Park. “I think too often in South Florida, LGBT parents and families have not received the attention or resources or support they deserve.”
He said the playground had been an ongoing project of the center for the past few years after members of the board of directors realized the need for a safe space for parents and children on campus.
At the end of this summer, Fegenbush said, the Pride Center found out they’d be receiving a grant from Kaboom and that Jet Blue had chosen them to be a corporate sponsor, the first time Jet Blue or Kaboom will be working with an LGBT organization. This gave them the opportunity to make the playground a reality.
The project also calls for help from the community though, he said. It will cost at least $30,000 for the site preparation and actual build. It will take another $45,000 for features including shade, fencing, drinking fountains, maintenance and programming.
On October 14 and 15, 40 volunteers will be needed to prepare for the build, and on October 16, approximately 150 people will be needed to build the playground.
“In the morning, there will be no playground. In the afternoon there will be a playground,” he said. “To pull off something like this, it becomes a community project.”
The Pride Center hosted a Design Day on August 18 during which local children got to illustrate their dream playgrounds to help with design. Rob Lamarche, 43, said he looks forward to seeing his daughter, 7, have part of her design put into the playground.
“I could say, ‘Look, girlie. You were part of bringing this here. You helped put this place here for our community,’” he said. “It’s a really cool lesson for the children involved to see that they’ll have a positive impact on the community.”
Michael Gagne, 45, has two children, Joshuah, 9, and Michael Jr., 8, who he will be taking to the playground. He said it will make the area feel more inclusive and like home.
“There are probably hundreds of straight people that drive by and say, ‘There’s nothing for me,’” Gagne, chair of the food committee, said. “There will be something for them. We won’t be catering just to the gay and lesbian community, but the whole community.”
Gagne will be organizing the seniors in the SAGE group on the prep and build days who will be serving snacks and lunch.
Lamarche said he anticipates having the opportunity to meet other parents, share parenting advice and organize play dates for the children.
“We do run into some different issues in the world as GLBT parents,” he said, “and it’s just going to be nice to have those folks here.”
Fegenbush said he’s been encouraged by the amount of people who have already agreed to volunteer and have donated.
“I think for a lot of donors we heard from, it’s been more than a playground,” he said. “It’s been a symbol to the families in the future that you matter, you’re embraced and we’re going to support you and your significant other.”
Heidi Siegel, 43, co-chair of the construction committee, said the park is an important symbol.
“I think it sends a strong message that we’re one big community regardless of our family structure,” the mother said.
“To watch that many people come together for a common cause,” he said, “we represent the ability to pull people together to do something bigger than themselves.”
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating, visit PrideCenterFlorida.org.