Matteo’s Dream celebrates ten-year anniversary

By John T. Miller on July 17, 2017

The Bay Area Lions clubs and the city of Concord hosted a celebration marking the 10-year anniversary of Matteo’s Dream, one of the first playgrounds in the Bay Area for children of all abilities.
Liz Lamach had the idea for the park after she and partner Rene Henderson adopted Matteo, who was blind, had cerebral palsy and a digestive disorder.

“I had to carry him into parks, and I wondered why there could be no place where he could play alongside his cousins,” Lamach recalled.

Last Friday’s event featured a visit from Lions International first vice president Gudrun Yngvadottir, who is set to become the first female president of the international group next year. She praised the efforts of Lamach and the local Lions clubs.

“One woman with one disabled child has a dream that comes true and benefits others around the world,” she said.

In 2001, Lamach shared her idea in an interview with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and caught the attention of current mayor Laura Hoffmeister. She was told she needed to build this park, and the city let her choose where it would go.

Lamach, who was born in Concord and grew up playing at Hillcrest Park, decided to build an all-inclusive park there. But time after time, she was told that it couldn’t be done. After exhausting local sources, she finally found a New Jersey company that could design it – but they told her she would have to build it.

She appealed to the Pittsburg Lions club but was met with a tepid response. That’s when Bill Ridle, in attendance as the district governor, said: “This is what Lions is all about.”

He declared building the park a district project, and Matteo’s Dream came closer to reality.

After six years of fundraising, more than 2,000 volunteers built the park April 20-29, 2007. It was the largest playground in Concord, covering an area a third the size of a football field. The city donated the land at Hillcrest Park and provided $232,000 in park funds. Lions Club members raised an additional $500,000 and solicited in-kind donations and volunteers.

Unfortunately, Matteo went into intensive care for 30 days and Lamach was unable to be on hand for the building of the park. Ridle stepped in again and directed the volunteers.

“The last thing I wanted was for the park to be a memorial for Matteo, rather than a place he could play side-by-side with his friends and cousins. We were so happy he recovered and could enjoy the park as long as he could,” Lamach said of her son, who died in 2011.

Michael Miller, vice chair of Concord’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission, helped build the park and was at the festivities. He praised Lamach’s efforts. “She is a great example of a private citizen stepping up. Without her constantly pushing this concept, it would never have become a reality.”

Hoffmeister called Matteo’s Dream “the most accessible playground built at the time and a model that has been recreated elsewhere for the benefit of children worldwide.”

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