The DIY-ers

This group of parents put their heads together to give the local co-op play space a facelift

The DIY-ersThink back to those difficult days when you were cooped up with a small child — maybe this is you right now, actually — jonesing for adult company. Didn’t/doesn’t your new parents’ group save your sanity?

Marilotte Bloemen can relate. The co-president of Break For Play, a cooperative play centre in west-end Toronto, says she used to count the hours until she could go to the centre with her toddler and infant, now aged 4 and 3. “When my second was born, it was such a fabulous place to go with them. My older son could safely play while I spent time with my newborn,” she says. Not to mention sit down and talk with other adults.

Open three hours, three times a week, Break for Play is housed in a church basement (but is not religiously affiliated) and is funded by co-op membership fees and small visit fees. It provides circle time, free play, parent-supervised crafts, and snacks for both caregivers and kids. Perfect, right? Sure. If you ignored the aging carpet, mould, peeling wall paint, and seen-better-days toys. When a small group within the 55-member co-op couldn’t ignore it any longer, they took action. After proposing redesigning the space at a membership meeting in September 2006, a project committee comprised of three parents was created.

“We had one passionate, committed leader — Kelly Smith-Wayland,” says Bloemen. “It was a lot of talk, talk, talk, until she just chaired the project committee and notified everyone of what to do.” The co-op budgeted $1,000 from its coffers and then hit the pavement in search of corporate support in the form of cash or product donations and free or discounted labour. And each member family agreed to put in at least one four-hour shift working on the space (or kick in money instead); walls had to be stripped, sanded, primed, painted, the carpet had to be replaced with tile, and seating and storage had to be built. In all, more than 300 hours of labour were logged over the course of the two-week makeover, which took place in summer 2007.

Donors big (The Home Depot) and small (local shops including Toronto kids’ boutiques MasterMind, Little Lola and WestEnd Paint, who donated all the paint) came through, as did interior designer Sabrina Lynn (also a Canadian Family stylist). “Sabrina’s expertise was crucial to ensure the redesign was as appealing as possible — and a great way to tap into suppliers,” says Bloemen.

Today, Break For Play’s formerly tired space is a citrus-hued play haven with comfortable and stylish seating, fun activity areas and easily organized toy storage. “The members love it!” raves Bloemen. “Another thing that has happened is the membership respects the space more. Now the toys are washed better, members provide more feedback, and the co-op has a revitalized spirit.” Isn’t it amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do?

ways to get a play space makeover done fast and on budget

1 Stay small Avoid the too-many-cooks syndrome by keeping a project committee small — three is ideal, says Marilotte Bloemen — but delegating to a larger group of volunteers.

2 Work those connections Companies get a lot of donation requests. So, if you know anyone on the “inside” (in this case, Bloemen had a contact at The Home Depot), don’t be afraid to ask him or her to put in a good word. And if you patronize a store regularly, ask the owner to help the community with a donation of cash or merchandise.

3 Create a PR opp for the donors and volunteers Offer to credit donors on a plaque or framed notice onsite. Send out a press release listing donors, and inviting local media to drop by while work is being done, or for the “unveil.” It’s a fun way to keep volunteers and donors stoked.

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