It's not often you hear cheers for the development of a grassy spot in a park, but that's what happened on Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Rotary PlayGarden at the Guadalupe River Park.
The $6 million project will transform about 4 acres of the park across the street from the Coleman Market Center into a colorful playground that's designed to be accessible for children in wheelchairs or with other special needs. But while it's being built with that in mind, speaker after speaker on Wednesday made the point that it's really intended for all kids, whether they have disabilities or not.
Julie and Mel Matsushima, both past presidents of the Rotary Club of San Jose, were inspired to pitch the park as the club's 100th anniversary project and gift to the community because of their desire to have a place where their twin granddaughters Aimee and Chloe could play side by side. Aimee, 16, was born with brain damage and cerebral palsy and has spent the majority of her life in a wheelchair.
"Having a park that all children could enjoy, that was the dream," Julie Matsushima said.
About 150 people gathered on a hot, sunny day to watch Jon Ball, vice president of contractor Hensel Phelps, and several elected officials and sponsors put the first shovels to the ground on the project, which has been several years in the making and is expected to be completed in October or November. "Some people say this is like a marathon," said former San Jose Vice Mayor Shirley Lewis, a past Rotary Club president who was a major supporter of the effort, "but it's been more like a relay race with a number of people carrying the baton."
Several foundations, plus the city of San Jose, Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Office of Education contributed to the effort. Many Bay Area construction and trades companies are providing in-kind services to help keep costs down, and the club -- I'm one of its 400-plus members, by the way -- raised $1 million from its membership.
NO RESERVATIONS ABOUT IT: There's a great opportunity next week for Silicon Valley residents to help people living with HIV/AIDS by taking part in Dining Out For Life, the Health Trust's annual fundraiser for its AIDS Services programs. The best part is all you've got to do is grab a few friends, pick a restaurant and eat next Thursday.
More than 40 eateries throughout Santa Clara and southern San Mateo counties will be taking part and donating a portion of their proceeds to support the program, which provides food, housing and other services to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. Some, like Morocco's in Mountain View and Blackbird Tavern in downtown San Jose, will have live entertainment and other activities specifically for the event.
For a list of participating restaurants, or to make a donation, go to http://healthtrust.org/diningoutforlife.
MARCH FOR A GOOD CAUSE: Expect lots of families and quite a few Silicon Valley tech workers to be hitting the streets on April 26 for the March of Dimes' annual March for Babies in downtown San Jose. The 2.75-mile walk starts and ends at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, and the money raised goes toward March of Dimes' programs to help parents have healthy, full-term babies -- and to support those who have preemies.
Cisco Systems, which has donated more than $1 million to the March of Dimes this year, has been involved in the San Jose walk for the past eight years and will have at least three teams out there who have collectively raised more than $60,000 in pledges.
You can get more information by looking up the Silicon Valley walk at www.marchforbabies.org or register on-site starting at 8 a.m.
ROSE GARDEN HONORED: There's another accolade for the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, which has been named one of 12 "Frontline Parks" this year by City Parks Alliance, which recognizes urban parks that find unique ways to overcome their challenges.
In the case of the Municipal Rose Garden, which opened in 1937, the challenge was dwindling attention from the cash-strapped city, which led to reduced maintenance. Weeds sprouted, visitors began staying away and the garden came close to losing its accreditation from the All-America Rose Selections group. Volunteers, encouraged by Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, helped turn things around and the Municipal Rose Garden is once again a thing of beauty. And now it's a Frontline Park, too.