By Chris Trout
SJMCC spokesperson

Ideas germinate from needs, wants and wishes. In 2009, Dawn Sonnier and her family visited Santa Barbara where they discovered a publicly accessible playground. As a mother of three she was thrilled to see how her children enjoyed the facility.

Dawn Sonnier

When she was told that the community had built the playground, the seed began to sprout. A bit of snooping around led her to Leathers and Associates, a company in New York that builds playgrounds, which children imagine and their communities build.

Impressed with the opportunity to have playground features inspired by Idyllwild’s natural landmarks, she decided to visit the one in Seward, Alaska. Shop keepers told her, “We built this playground. It is ours. Go visit it.” She was impressed with the pride the community felt in their accomplishment.

Filled with fire and passion and totally supported by her mother, husband and children, she started to work. A chance meeting with the Butterfields at a Christmas party started the fundraising.

Everyone who volunteered found something that contributes to the community’s new playground.

Every night she sat on the sofa with her mom and wrote grant applications — more than 50 of them. Amazingly, 25 of them were funded, beginning with the first one from the San Manuel Indians.

Some applications were initially turned down. Later, when the momentum began to build and the money started coming in, she received checks for even more than the initial request, acknowledging the diligence and effort of this inspired young mother.

In October 2010, Leathers and Associates appeared in Idyllwild for what it called organization day. It began with visits to every classroom at Idyllwild School to hear and listen to the children’s dream playgrounds.

It ended with a design-day carnival during which the architects revealed the Idyllwild Playground design that included the Taquitz Rock Climbing Wall, Lemon Lily Spinners, Taquitz Peak Lookout Tower and the Engine 57 Forest Service Truck. Architect Jim Marsh and Builder Paul Newkirk donated their time for the pavilion and the in-kind and monetary contributions rolled in.

Children sanding fences during the 2012 playgound construction.

It was time to organize the teams of volunteers. Dawn turned to Claudia Posey and Emily White. When asked how the three of them got it all done, Emily said, “We capitalized on our strengths and divided up the responsibilities. Dawn was the go-getter, the initiator, the cheerleader. Claudia was the get-it-done gal for any task and I made sure we were focused and always heading in the right direction.”

According to Emily, “Because we are all working mothers, we find it easy to multi-task and we used email, texting and phone calls all day, every day to communicate and move the project forward.”

As with any project, there were setbacks, delays and disappointments. What Dawn remembers most are the seemingly serendipitous answers to prayers. When building the pavilion, the process reached the point where it needed a roof and Dawn realized they didn’t have a roofer. Then walking across the site came Jesse Wilkerson, who not only is a roofer but jumped right in and built the roof. Materials arrived that needed to be cut and who showed up? Dawn’s woodshop teacher, Rick Holmes. He cut the wood.

Hundreds of volunteers build the Idyllwild playground Photos courtesy of Chris Trout

Most rewarding to both Dawn and Emily was the fact that Idyllwild showed up at 8 a.m., June 13, 2012, and every day thereafter until the grand opening on Father’s Day, June 17.

“Yeses” on the phone turned into hands sawing wood. Promises made months before resulted in lunches served by local restaurants. “We’ll try,” became, “We’re here to dig the ditches and paint the leaves and set the screws.”

And now Idyllwild can tell visitors, “Go visit our playground. We built it ourselves.”

The community is invited to a “Happy 1st Birthday Idyllwild Playground” celebration on Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. See the sidebar for more information.

To share your ideas, questions and inquiries, contact [email protected]. We look forward to having the opportunity to chat with you.

Step by step … a brief monthly update of the activities of the SJMCC board and its committees

Program and Activities Committee:

  • Happy 1st Birthday Idyllwild Playground
    11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 8
    Family fun, games, lunch, live music and a big birthday cake. Everyone is invited. BYOC: Bring your own chair.
  • Final speaker of the ICRC Speakers’ Series of the season
    The topic will be “Plein Air Painting” and the Art Alliance of Idyllwild is sponsoring the evening, Thursday, June 13 at the Living Room Gallery on North Circle. Wine at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation begins at 6 p.m.

Building Campaign Committee:

  • Kick off of the “I’M HELPING” build the Idyllwild Community Center campaign at the Birthday Party for the playground. Let’s do it again Idyllwild! Come and walk the site, view the plans, take a virtual tour and sign up to volunteer for the next community build. We need and want your contributions: monetary, labor and in-kind. BYOC: Bring your own chair and join the festivities.

Your comments, inquiries and donations are welcome. You may also request a presentation for your organization or group. Guided tours of the site may also be arranged. Just email [email protected].