Two Moms on a Mission to Renovate Portsmouth Playground

A nonprofit raising funds for an inclusive park has become a community effort

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For many, playgrounds hold fond childhood memories of hanging on the monkey bars and racing down the slides, but not all swing sets are built equally. When it comes to accommodating the youngest of park-goers and those with disabilities, finding a play space for everyone can be a challenge. This is what compelled two local moms to found the Four Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit raising funds to transform the Portsmouth Playground into a space for all abilities.

The moms, Kateri Chappell Buerman and Laurel Handel Polselli, have made it their mission to transform the playground located on Portsmouth’s Turnpike Avenue. The current one is only fit for ages five through 12. Both with toddlers, Buerman and Polselli saw the need for a play space suitable and safe for younger children, too. 

At the suggestion of the Parks and Recreation Committee, Buerman and Polselli founded the Four Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit with one goal: raise enough money to completely renovate the playground – a costly endeavor. 

A nurse and realtor, respectively, neither Buerman nor Polselli had ever led such a large fundraising campaign, but their passion for making an inclusive playground drives their efforts. “Play knows no age and no ability level. Play is a way for people to connect and learn and grow,” Buerman says. She points to research showing that play helps develop social skills and self-regulation abilities, along with providing physical benefits. An “all ages, all accessibility” mission is at the core of Four Hearts, ensuring anyone can reap the benefits of play. 

Inclusivity comes in the form of equipment that’s differentiated by age group. “We have a structure that’s for ages zero to five, and we also have another that’s five to 12,” Buerman says, adding that the latter structure would also have safety measures in place for any toddlers that wander onto it. “We also wanted to make it handicap accessible. The current one is not,” she continues. Instead of the ground being covered in mulch, as it is currently, the new playground will have a rubber-like wheelchair-friendly flooring. 

With an original estimate of $500,000, Four Hearts Foundation seeks funding from a variety of sources, including grants, GoFundMe, plaques for sale, and community events. The nonprofit currently has one board member, and various volunteers who help at different local events. “We really do feel like this is
becoming a community effort,” Buerman says, describing how much she and Polselli enjoy getting the whole town involved. Whether people come out to events or purchase a plaque for a park bench or table, Buerman stresses that any small amount helps. 

Four Hearts Foundation will be hosting a Pints for Play event with the Infinity Volunteers – a group of students engaging in humanitarian efforts – at Ragged Island in Portsmouth on August 14. As Buerman says, “We want everyone to be involved and included - that’s the only way we’re going to reach the goal.” Facebook: Four Hearts Foundation

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