To put it mildly, 2020 was a chaotic year. And while it may have felt like things ground to a halt, as the COVD-19 pandemic overshadowed everything we experienced, the Urbana Parks Foundation was still able to get stuff done throughout the year. In this month’s blog, we would like to highlight some of our 2020 achievements.
The Big Splash
Fortunately, before we had to start social distancing due to the virus, we were able to celebrate our Urbana Park District Youth Scholarship program at the second annual Big Splash. On February 22nd we threw a pool party at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center to raise awareness for the scholarship program that raises money to help improve access to park district programs for youth by removing financial barriers. Scholarships have helped families afford swim lessons, attend day camps, and participate in sports, art, and theatre programs throughout the year.
The event was a splashing success, with waterslides and diving boards open, games—including an impressive cannonball competition—fun door prizes, and a chance for families who have benefited from and contributed to the scholarship program to come together and celebrate. One of our core goals is keeping youth engaged, and the Big Splash has been a great way to help people learn more about park district programs and how they can get involved.
Nature When You Need It
The need for social distancing and the impact of being cooped up due to quarantine put the importance of our parks into stark relief. This past year we looked at our parks in a new light and developed a deeper appreciation for all the ways they benefit our health and well-being.
Our Nature When You Need It campaign outlined the key wellness benefits of having access to nature and green spaces through urban parks. A few months into the lockdown, Urbana Parks Foundation president Fred Delcomyn wrote in the News-Gazette about the many advantages of spending even just half an hour a day out in a park. He noted how lucky we are in Champaign-Urbana to have a higher-than-average ratio of parks to people. In addition, we are fortunate to have so many acres of natural areas as part of those parks, from woods to prairies to wetlands.
Research has shown that access to nature impacts physical and mental health in a number of positive ways, which felt even more critical in 2020 as the pandemic created an extra layer of stress for us all. The chance to get outside and walk around green spaces (with plenty of trees and plants) or blue spaces (rivers, lakes, oceans, or even ponds) plays an important role in reducing psychological distress. Even if you cannot get out into nature, just having a view of green and blue spaces can help reduce stress. Exposure to nature has been shown to help clear your head and help break up unhealthy thought patterns.
In addition to fulfilling a psychological need, as well as a place to get some fresh air and exercise, our network of parks provided an important place for the community to socialize. With indoor gatherings too risky, and both kids and adults stuck at home, away from friends, classmates, co-workers, and extended family, our parks provided a safe place to interact, play, and chat, while still social distancing to keep everyone healthy. In 2020, the idea of nature when you need it was about more than connecting with nature, but also connecting with other people.
Campaign for the Next Century
Our crowning achievement of 2020 was the successful completion of our 5-year Campaign for the Next Century. Not only did we meet our $2 million goal, we surpassed it thanks to the generosity of our donors. Over 200 individuals and more than 30 businesses donated to the campaign, including a $600,000 donation from the Carle Foundation.
Started on November 1, 2015 with a silent donation phase, the Campaign for the Next Century expanded to the general public in the fall of 2017 and wrapped up on October 31, 2020. The campaign worked tirelessly to raise funds to “strengthen the local park system and enhance the health and vibrancy of our community.” Funds from this campaign will help support the Crystal Lake Revitalization project, expand funding for youth scholarships, and provide a solid base of support through the Urbana Parks Endowment.
While 2020 may have felt like the year we were all stuck in time, we are thrilled to look back and see what all was accomplished. We would like to thank our donors, Urbana Park District employees and volunteers, the Urbana Parks Foundation board, and everyone in the community who has come together to support our parks and help us all get out into nature all over town.