It's been four years in the making, but an initiative that began with two grandmothers out for a walk with their grandsons, is just a few thousand dollars short of a goal that will make Grandmothers Park in west Evanston a reality.
The two grandmothers–Gay Riseborough and Mary Trujillo–lamented the fact that there was no place in the neighborhood to take their toddlers to play. So they decided to do something about it.
The upshot was the creation of the Grandmother Park Initiative, a volunteer-run operation that met with city officials and private companies and individuals who are close to sealing the deal for a $250,000 park at 1125 Dewey Ave.
The city pledged $50,000, but told the grandmothers they would have to raise the balance themselves, as the city had no money for parkland acquisition or development.
Today they are within $20,000 of their goal, and several private donors have created a $10,000 "challenge gift," which means they will match other donations up to a maximum of $10,000.
The Dewey site was secured for the group by Openlands, a regional non-profit that can buy and hold land for public use, according to Riseborough.
When the project was conceived four years ago, it came in the early stages of the current recession, which put a damper on fundraising, she said.
"We held yard sales, small benefit events, and learned to write grants," Riseborough said. "We sent out annual solicitation letters. We tapped our friends and families, Evanstonians or not."
Their largest grant came from Safeway/Dominick's, which operates a supermarket nearby at Church Street and Dodge Avenue, but funds also came from the Boeing Employees Community Fund, Food4Less, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and Col. J. N. Pritzker's Tawani Foundation.
"The Evanston Community Foundation has been an incredible support," Riseborough said, "not only with grant money, but mentoring us as well."
The deal with the city is that, assuming the funds are raised by June 30, Openlands will be reimbursed and the project will be turned over to the city for building.
By agreement, Grandmother Park will be a public park, gifted to the city, to be insured and maintained as part of the parks system.
In the meantime, the group has issued its final fundraising letter to about 400 donor prospects, with instructions for them to mail their checks, made payable to Grandmother Park Initiative, to Adam Finlayson, treasurer, 1216 Darrow Ave., Evanston, IL 60202.