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Playground at Jim Dooley Center for Early Learning unveiled

After years of fundraising and planning, a new playground was installed at the Jim Dooley Center for Early Learning on October 24th in a community build that engaged close to 90 volunteer parents, Finger Lakes Health (FLH) employees, Hobart lacrosse team members, Geneva Rotary Club Interact students and New Vision Medical Careers Program instructor and students.

Armed with shovels, rakes, ratchets and an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, these folks worked in shifts to bring the dream of a developmentally appropriate and engaging play space to life for the more than 130 children enrolled at the Center. According to one of the on-site coordinators from Parkitects, the design company for the playground, the community build was organized and effective, fueled by respectful, helpful and kind volunteers who shared camaraderie and much laughter.

This year, the Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The new playground, which replaces outdated, original equipment, offers a well-designed, outdoor space and structures that will inspire preschool through elementary aged children to use their muscles and imagination in order to build a strong foundation of fitness, enthusiasm for sports and recreation and self-confidence.

Kathy Ryrko, Director of the Jim Dooley Center stresses, “Abundant open-ended play is so important for young children, and this new playground will inspire children for years to come. I am exceedingly proud of the support shown by Finger Lakes Health employees, our Jim Dooley Center staff, families and the community that made this project a reality.”

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Completion of the project, which cost close to $90,000, was made possible thanks to hundreds of generous gifts from individual donors, FLH employees and business partners. Other funding sources included grants from The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund for Youth Sports and the Geneva Rotary Club; a second place prize from the Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack Charity Cup; lead gifts from Finger Lakes Radiology and the Brenda and Dave Rickey Foundation; the sale of “Cubby Candy” bars and several years of Cubby Chase 5K/10K and other event proceeds.

In addition, Laura Van Niel, New Vision Medical instructor and Finger Lakes Health Foundation Board Chair and her husband, John, offered a matching gift challenge in honor of the 25th anniversary of the New Vision Medical Careers Program, which resulted in a hugely successful #GivingTuesdayNow campaign, in May, to benefit the playground.

“Our match challenge was to honor the preceptors at FLH who have mentored hundreds of New Vision Medical students. Additionally, John and I are grateful for the exceptional care and early education our daughter Danika received for five years at the Center,” explains Laura Van Niel.

Thanks also to Nardozzi Paving and Construction, Finger Lakes Equipment Rental and Knapp & Schlappi Lumber Co. for their most generous in-kind support of equipment, manpower and materials for site preparation.

“It has been a hugely satisfying effort to bring this playground to the children at the Jim Dooley Center,” says Helen Kelley, Director of Development for the Finger Lakes Health Foundation.

Kelley adds, “There is nothing more special and heartwarming than the joy of a child at play. . . especially now, while we are still in the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic. I am so grateful to all of the supporters and volunteers who made this dream a reality for our kids.”

With the preschool playground in place, fundraising efforts will ramp up for the second phase of the project – to realize the dream of providing a new playground for the Center’s two and three year olds. The community is invited to participate in this campaign to help the Jim Dooley Center reach their goal of $35,000 for this phase.

To donate:

  • Mail a check made out to Finger Lakes Health Foundation to: 196 North St., Geneva, NY  14456 (please indicate in the memo “Jim Dooley Center for Early Learning Playground”) or
  • Donate online at: and designate to, “Jim Dooley Center for Early Learning Playground”