Google has selected Richmond’s Pogo Park as a top 10 finalist to receive grant money from the company’s Bay Area Impact Challenge, meaning the beloved local nonprofit could net either $250,000 or $500,000 depending on how many online votes it can garner over the next 12 days.
Pogo Park, started in 2007 with the mission of transforming the Iron Triangle’s rarely used open spaces into vibrant parks and playgrounds, was among nearly 1,000 local nonprofits that submitted applications for the Google Challenge.
Toody Maher, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, said she and the Pogo Park staff — made up entirely of neighborhood residents — were “stunned” to be named as finalists.
“This grant will mean that we can build more safe, clean, and green play spaces for thousands of vulnerable children to play and thrive,” Maher said. “What a gift.”
The panel of prominent figures who picked the finalists included Major League Baseball pitcher Barry Zito, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed and Rev. Cecil Williams of the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.
Google.org is donating $5 million to 25 local nonprofits selected for their innovative approaches to improving community life in the Bay Area.
West County residents are now asked to vote online for Pogo Park here. Votes can be cast through June 2. Of the ten finalists, the four garnering the most votes will will receive $500,000 and the remaining six will get $250,000. Winners will be announced June 3.
The grant for Pogo Park is well-deserved. The nonprofit recently renovated the Elm Playlot at Elm Street and Eighth Street, using a team of local residents who completely redesigned and rebuilt the park by hand, with the support of the city and state parks officials.
The park, Maher said, had long been neglected and was too dangerous for children but is now “a magical kid magnet.”
Maher, an inventor and entrepreneur, started Pogo Park after moving to Richmond 10 years ago and discovering the local playgrounds and parks were unused.
“In one of the most beautiful places on earth—the San Francisco Bay Area—there are kids living in places like the Iron Triangle behind locked doors with no safe place to play outside,” Maher said. “As a result they suffer from the highest rates of obesity, asthma, ADHD, and nature deficit disorder in the Bay Area.”
Maher added, “Their minds and spirits also suffer. They arrive at school years behind their middle-class counterparts because they have not developed the linguistic, cognitive, and social skills that are best fostered through active, creative play. Look at it in business terms: parks are undervalued assets because they are not functional.”