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Jan. 8 was a blisteringly cold day at the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston (IWSE), with temperatures in the single digits including the wind chill factor. It was the perfect day for the official opening of the new Tom Kendall Gross Motor and Play Space, an indoor play and therapeutic space large enough for up to 16 children and teachers.
The play space, approximately 800 square feet in size, includes radiant heat beneath the thick rubber floors, plenty of toys and books, and a fully-made child sized teepee tucked snugly into one of the corners. Windows between the inside walls allow the children in the classroom next door and those in the play space to look at one another. The entire room is airy and light-filled, simultaneously bringing the outside in while leaving the cold and wet weather out. A light fixture with snowflake-like cutouts shines brightly from above.
Local architect DonnaLee Floeter designed the space.
The funding for this much-needed indoor play space came primarily from a $50,000 grant from the George R. Kendall Foundation and federal funds through a partnership with the City of Evanston and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The federal funds are part of the Community Development Block Grant program, which is “a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs,” according to HUD’s website.
Several Kendall family members were in attendance to celebrate the official opening at IWSE. George Kendall, patriarch of the family, enthused, “There was no other choice. Our family has been involved with and volunteering for this organization for four generations. It’s an amazing place and so well run.”
Members of the Kendall family have been supporters of IWSE since the 1960s, when Mr. Kendall’s mother began volunteering her time and providing scholarship funds. The space is named after George Kendall’s late brother, Tom.
Tom Kendall’s son, Chase, spoke movingly on behalf of the family. “We are blessed to be able to provide the funds to continue our service and commitment to early childhood development. The Kendall Foundation has been a proud supporter of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston for years and years, and we are honored to be a part of this new space. I know my father would have loved it.”
Pamela Staples, Site Director of the Baby Toddler Nursery and a teacher at IWSE for the past 16 years, reinforced the importance of the new play area. “In addition to being an indoor play area, this will also function as a training space for parents and teachers and early childhood providers. Development of a child’s gross motor skills is an essential part of speech and emotional and social development. Children need a place to learn how to crawl, walk and run, especially on a day like today when it’s too cold to go outside. I’m already planning the schedule so that all our classes can use it,” she said.
In addition to Mr. Kendall and Ms. Staples, others who spoke briefly included Stephen Vick, Executive Director of IWSE; Marcia Richman, Board Chair; and Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose district the Center resides.
Karen McCormick, Chief of Staff for State Representative Robyn Gabel represented Rep. Gabel’s interest in and support of the project. Added Ms. McCormick, “We are so excited to see this beautiful new space! It’s a great opportunity in Evanston and a great way to support the community.”
After the ribbon was cut, those gathered in the room started to leave. Within an hour the refreshments had been removed and the floor had been swept. It was a good thing, too:Children were waiting to get in and play.