Gwendolyn Strong Foundation Hits Fundraising Goal

By the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation is thrilled to announce it has hit its $6MM capital campaign goal to create a fully accessible and inclusive playground located on a 10-acre property near the Santa Barbara Zoo.

The news comes on the heels of Congressman Salud Carbajal’s securing of $1.5MM in federal funding to support renovating park land, which includes the Dwight Murphy field site where Gwendolyn’s Playground will be located.

A second significant donation from the Manitou Fund as guided by Nora McNeely Hurley – with contributions totaling $2,050,000, including the underwriting of the playground’s Magical Tree – carried the campaign over the finish line.

Victoria and Bill Strong spearheaded the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation in honor of their first-born daughter who was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Even after Gwendolyn’s passing in 2015, the foundation continued to raise millions of dollars in funding for SMA, ultimately leading to life-changing treatments. In 2018, the foundation launched a capital campaign to create the first and largest inclusive playground on the Central Coast. 

“Our hearts are full of awe and pride for this community, who rallied from all corners to help us realize this vision,” said Victoria Strong. “Local leaders, the business community, philanthropists, and thousands of families came together with a common passion and goal to create a magical, empowering, and inclusive destination for all children. We are eternally grateful to the Manitou Fund for their tremendous gift, and for every single gesture that was offered to our effort – from lemonade stand profits and piggy bank coins to corporate and nonprofit grants and matching contributions.”

With construction anticipated to commence in 2024, Gwendolyn’s Playground is a place to spark wonder in every age. Their custom, one-of-a-kind multi-story Magical Tree is the centerpiece of this space, filled with imaginative play, STEAM interactive experiences, and allowing for the exploration and full accessibility of every visitor. Other features include inclusive swings, sensory spinning, a butterfly plaza, art sculptures, a musical garden, a slide hillside, climbing features and much more.

“I am inspired as much by the way this campaign galvanized the community toward a common goal as I am the enchanting features of Gwendolyn’s Playground,” said Nora McNeely Hurley, adding that witnessing the tremendous passion for the cause at November’s Butterfly Ball is what inspired a second contribution. “The Manitou Fund’s support of Gwendolyn Playground is not a gift, but an investment in the standard we hold for this special corner of the world. Unbridled, unrestricted, and totally inclusive play is what truly fosters social growth, empathy, and joy. Its impact ripples out and benefits us all; it elevates us as a society.”

With the park features and the playground fully funded, the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation will pivot focus on their endowment efforts, which will support long-term maintenance and future equipment needs along with programming to dismantle stigma, bring the community together in joy, and foster connection through our shared humanity. The connected baseball field, multi-sport field, and family pavilion are still looking for support in the range of $4MM with naming opportunities.

“Gwendolyn’s Playground endowment fund will allow the space to evolve with emerging needs and technologies and remain a dynamic inclusive destination for generations to come,” added Strong. “Magical joy will always be the key element, as guided and inspired by Gwendolyn’s beautiful spirit.” 

About Gwendolyn’s Playground

Gwendolyn’s Playground will be the first fully inclusive playground in Santa Barbara, enriching public spaces to truly serve our whole community and provide long-overdue health equity. We have designed a truly one-of-a-kind destination experience that will elevate play to be more for everyone, bringing the community together in JOY! Considerate of  the many ways we learn and grow, this sensory-rich environment removes the physical and social barriers of today’s typical playground. Here EVERYONE belongs and has opportunities to challenge themselves, play side-by-side, and have fun together. These experiences foster life-long lessons of cooperation, empathy, and kindness.


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