Tot Lot support exceeds expectations

2/2/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: February 2017

By the start of the 2017-18 school year, the young students at the Early Childhood Center (ECC) and Perry Lane Preschool could have a completely revamped playground, thanks in part to the hard work of the Agawam Lions Club.

As part of the Lions International 100th anniversary celebration, Agawam Lions Club Secretary Dick Lanier explained, the organization charged each of its 42,000 clubs to go out into the community and identify a “Centennial Community Legacy Project,” aimed at creating a lasting contribution to the town. For its part in the worldwide outreach campaign, the Agawam Lions are now in the midst of a campaign to raise $25,000 in seed money to upgrade the “Tot Lot” at Perry Lane Park.

“There were small, medium and large projects. We thought financially and given the kinds of numbers we had and what was within our capability that we landed somewhere in the middle,” Cheryl Terramagra, Agawam Lions Club assistant secretary and Tot Lot project secretary added. “Not a park bench, not a clinic, maybe a playground.”

When surveying the town for project ideas, the club met with ECC Director Robin Fernandes, who pointed out the need for an updated park for the children.

“I have children who go to both preschools on the Perry Lane Park site – the Early Childhood Center and Perry Lane Preschool – and I had mentioned to Dick that there’s a playground there for 2- to 5-year-olds that’s adequate, but it’s tired,” Terramagra said. “There are children in wheelchairs being pushed over the grass and the tree roots because there’s no walkway. There’s no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible equipment. Portions of it are from the 60s when it was a YMCA camp.”

Given the amount of use the park gets, it appeared the Tot Lot certainly represented a project that would have a lasting impact on the community.

“There’s a lot of kids combined at these two preschools numbering in the hundreds and it’s a public park,” Terramagra said.

After identifying the Tot Lot as a project they’d like to tackle, the Lions reached out to Chris Sparks, director of Parks & Recreation, who told them the Tot Lot was going to be renovated as part of the town’s five-year Open Space Improvement Plan, with the majority of the funding coming tentatively through the Community Preservation Act and the Parks & Recreation Department’s annual budget.

The renovation is slated to take place in August after the Perry Lane Park Summer Camp ends and before the school year begins. Sparks said the renovations are still in the “very preliminary planning stages.”     

The Lions pledged to help raise $10,000 for the renovation and did so “in what felt like a minute,” according to Terramagra, but instead of stopping there, the group decided to raise the bar to $25,000. More than $15,000 has been raised so far.

“The response from parents, teachers, individuals and companies has been terrific. We hardly solicited anything,” she said.

“It kind of verified the need to help that age 2 to 5 group in town,” added Lanier, who is also the Tot Lot project chairperson. “We really hit a resonant chord here with the citizens of Agawam.”

Sparks explained the project has not yet been put out to bid, and funds through the City Council or the CPA have not yet been sought, so it would be “premature to speculate on the cost and scope of work,” however he said Parks and Recreation greatly appreciates the Lions’ help.

The Lions have been incredibly visible in the community with regard to this project, hosting a number of events throughout 2016, including socials at the Ice Cream Shoppe in Feeding Hills, the 2016 Summer Concert Series, a “Jeans Day” in the schools and a dueling pianos concert at Chez Josef in November, among others.

Individual donations of as much as $5,000 have been collected.

The students who will benefit from the upgrades even got involved, pulling together six pails of change at the Perry Lane Summer Camp Penny Carnival in August totaling $468.

“We were just flabbergasted,” Lanier said.

It’s a project that has garnered a great deal of interest in town and Terramagra asserted it also created “a great awakening that energized the club.”

Lanier agreed, “Normally we have to approach people to be on committees, but in this case, 22 people, including Chris Sparks, stepped to the plate. Because of this we’ve already picked up new members who are full of energy and ideas. It’s a means of rejuvenating the club.”

Renewed interest in the club, he continued, has helped replenish the ranks after the recent passing of some highly respected senior members. Terramagra added the new blood has brought with them a new wave of ideas and continued to diversify the club’s membership.

“Our club better represents our town now in the sense that there are grandparents, there are moms and dads, there are single folks,” she said. “We’ve got people with all kinds of skills. We’ve got welders to lawyers to nurses to teachers to cops to politicians. We’re a very interesting mix of folks.”

The club has also been introduced to new fundraising strategies and tools through the project. Lanier noted a calendar raffle in November 2016 was “extremely lucrative” and the club planned to do another in April.

He also said through information from Lions International the Agawam club is in the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, which he said would open new, larger fundraising opportunities.

“As an example, if we go to Six Flags today, they’ll give us some passes. If we go to them as a nonprofit, we can get thousands of dollars,” he explained. “We’ve submitted all the paperwork and we’re waiting on approval. We’re trying to hurry that along so we can capitalize on that for this project and for future projects.”

Once the Tot Lot upgrade is completed, the Lions would likely look at other ways it could serve the youngest citizens of the town, Terramagra said.

“We’re getting more in touch with this age group and what their needs are in these facilities,” she noted.

Next up on the docket of fundraising events is an art auction at Chez Josef on Feb. 10.

Featuring art in all media and price ranges, a cash bar and hors d’oeuvres, the event will open with a preview at 6 p.m. The auction will begin at 7 p.m. The cost is $15 per person and $25 per couple.

For tickets or more information, call Lanier at 335-5434.

The Lions will also be at Chez Josef for its 13th annual comedy show, headlined by Boston stand-up comedian Paul Nardizzi and featuring Kyle Crawford and Bob Montgomery, on March 3. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and are available at or by contacting Lanier.

“Chez Josef has partnered with us on this,” Lanier said, explaining the comedy show is returning to Agawam after a long run at the Castle of Knights in Chicopee.

“They have been extremely good to us with their rates and the services they’ve provided. I don’t know what we’d do without them.”

The Lions will also host a night at the Springfield Thunderbirds on Feb. 24. The Friday night game will feature $15 discounted tickets available through Matt McRobbie at 417-2290 or or via mail by downloading an order form at

A celebrity bartending night at Kaptain Jimmy’s will also benefit the project March 20. The celebrities are yet to be announced.

For more information on the Agawam Lions, visit or

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