Benevolent business: La Piazza owner donates $10,000 to Harmony Playground project

By on February 15, 2017
(Left to right) La Piazza manager Jordan Loose, owner Giuseppe Gambino, and Lititz Ambucs member Derek Hummer. The local Italian restaurant recently donated $10,000 toward Harmony Playground, designed to allow all children, including those with special needs, to play together.

(Left to right) La Piazza manager Jordan Loose, owner Giuseppe Gambino, and Lititz Ambucs member Derek Hummer. The local Italian restaurant recently donated $10,000 toward Harmony Playground, designed to allow all children, including those with special needs, to play together.

Derek Hummer thought he was just dropping off brochures to promote the new inclusive children’s playground.

He was caught off guard by what happened next.

“I stopped by La Piazza to see if Giuseppe would put the brochures at the restaurant for customers,” said Hummer, who is organizing the Lititz Ambucs drive to build an all-inclusive playground for kids of all abilities in Warwick Township.

Restaurant owner Giuseppe Gambino said yes, and while Hummer went out to his car to get a supply of brochures, Gambino started reading one of them. By the time Hummer came back into the restaurant, Gambino was sold.

“It touched my heart,” Gambino said. “I wanted to help.”

What Hummer never imagined is that Gambino wanted to make a pretty big donation to the playground.

“I was stunned when he told me he wanted to donate $10,000,” Hummer said. “That was amazing.”

Gambino had been a pre-med student at Franklin & Marshall College. Instead of pursuing a career in pediatric medicine, he joined the family’s restaurant business. Now with a three-year-old daughter, Mia, he has a soft spot for kids. He imagined how nice it would be for his daughter to play with children of all abilities.

“I want her to grow up accepting all children,” Gambino said. “It is a good lesson for everyone. And for the children with special needs, it is a chance for them to play like all the other kids.”

LR20170216_HarmonyLogoSo, Gambino made the $10,000 donation to Lititz Ambucs and the Harmony Playground, which boosts the fund to more than $30,000. The goal is to raise $80,000 to purchase 10 pieces of playground equipment that can be used by children with and without disabilities. With more contributors stepping up like Gambino, it is hoped that the new playground will be complete just in time for Mother’s Day in May.

“I cannot believe the support we are getting,” Hummer said. “The whole community is pulling together.”

It is not unlike the campaigns to build the Lititz Train Station Welcome Center at Lititz Springs Park or the Lititz Public Library. When the goal is to do something good for the community, the community comes together to make it happen.

Kathy Blankenbiller was one of the earlier visionaries who wanted to see a playground for children with disabilities in Lititz. At first, planners were looking at Lititz Springs Park, but there really wasn’t room to grow.

After checking out a few parks in the Lititz and Warwick area, they found the perfect match. Warwick Township’s Linear Park just off Market Street was flat, had handicapped accessible sidewalks, had its own restrooms, already had a playground, and it was right in the middle of a neighborhood with lots of children.

They decided to contact Warwick Township to see if municipal leaders would be receptive to the idea. Early on the proposal was for one large piece of equipment known as a Liberty Swing for children with disabilities. Township supervisors were immediately on board with the idea.

“I think this will be a very good addition to the park,” said Supervisor Chairman Logan Myers at the time.

As plans for the playground evolved, it changed from being a playground for kids with disabilities to being a playground for all kids. Instead of one big piece of equipment, Harmony Playground would have a variety of equipment for “every body” to use.

That includes musical play equipment with chimes and a keyboard, play panels for games, a spring see saw, a glider and safety swings that allow children to swing high without falling.

“We are very pleased to have the playground in the Linear Park,” said Dan Zimmerman, township manager, adding that the new additions complement the slides, climbing apparatus and other equipment in the park.

Not only did Warwick Township give the green light for the playground, but the township public works crew will be installing the equipment and maintaining it.

(Left to right) Sarah Hummer, Jill Oehme of the Lititz Lioness Club, Melissa Landis, and Corina Hummer check out the new swing at Linear Park, which is the first installment of the inclusive Harmony Playground.

(Left to right) Sarah Hummer, Jill Oehme of the Lititz Lioness Club, Melissa Landis, and Corina Hummer check out the new swing at Linear Park, which is the first installment of the inclusive Harmony Playground.

The first piece of equipment has already been installed. It’s a bright lime green bucket swing with a neon orange safety bar that keeps youngsters secure. It was installed a few weeks ago, and all the kids have been lining up for a ride.

The next piece, the glider, has been ordered — thanks to Gambino’s donation — and is due to arrive soon. It’s the most expensive piece of equipment and offers a fun ride for children of all abilities.

Hummer reports that new equipment will be ordered from Landscape Structures as the funds become available.

For one young man from Lititz, it’s a dream-come-true. Cody Landis is now 28, but when he was a little boy with autism and cerebral palsy, he could only sit and watch as his older sister played in the playground at Lititz Springs Park. He loved the wooden train because he could sit in the train car like all the other kids.

“This is going to be great for kids like Cody. They won’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch the other children,” said his mother Melissa Landis, who works at Beers & Hoffman Architects in Lititz.

Landis was one of the first people who Blankenbiller approached more than a year ago. She talked with Zimmerman at Warwick Township, and Cody’s story got the ball rolling for the new playground.

As it turns out, lots of people think the playground is a great idea.

The Lititz Lioness Club purchased the bucket swing. The Lititz VFW has made significant contributions, as have the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and Warwick School District. The American Legion Riders have planned a benefit breakfast. The United Methodist Church donated funds from a Christmas event.

Businesses have also stepped up to the plate, such as Olio with its fundraising oil and vinegar set, Cargill Cares, Scooter’s, Flyway Excavation, Tiger’s Eye, and Wolf & Kline in Akron. The list is growing so fast, Hummer is having trouble keeping up, and he’s thrilled.

“I am blown away by the support,” Hummer said.

The Ambucs took on the role of coordinating the playground because of its long-standing commitment to children with special needs. Two upcoming fundraising events include the Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off on Feb. 18 at Warwick High School, and the Hoss’s Steakhouse event on Feb. 20 with 20-25 percent of sales going toward the playground.

To find out more, check the website at www.lititzambucs.com or the Harmony Playground Facebook page.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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