Matteo's Dream has come true again. The playground envisioned for children of all abilities was built through city and community support, and on New Year's Day will be represented on the Lions Club International float in the 125th annual Tournament of Roses Parade.
Matteo's Dream was selected from hundreds of Lions Club International worldwide projects for this year's parade theme, which is "Dreams Come True."
It took more than 3,000 volunteers, five years and just under a million dollars to see Matteo's Dream -- A Playground for Children of All Abilities, come to fruition.
And, Matteo Henderson, the son of Liz Lamach and René Henderson, was able to join in the fun with other children on the playground, including Christian Campbell, who has been selected to ride on the float representing the park's namesake. Matteo died in 2011.
"Christian is the perfect child to represent 'Matteo's Dream,'" said his mother, Kausha Campbell. "When we told him, he just smiled and smiled. At the time we didn't realize how big this thing is."
Christian, 17, suffers from cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. Before the completion of the all-inclusive playground in May 2007, Christian, Matteo and others were not able to play because of their wheelchairs and needs.
Parks that were wheelchair-accessible didn't have equipment to accommodate other special needs, such as blindness or children who got overheated when playing.
It was then that Lamach said, "We have to build a park.
"I said to Liz, 'You are nuts!' This isn't going to happen. But she was determined," said René Henderson.
Lamach took on the task that resulted in a massive playground, the largest in Concord, covering an area a third the size of a football field. And in the middle of it was Matteo.
"He just loved being in the middle of kids playing," recalled Henderson.
The city of Concord donated land at Hillcrest Community Park and provided $232,000 in park funds. Additionally, Lions Club members raised more than $825,000 and solicited in-kind donations and thousands of volunteers.
"Matteo brought together a whole group of unlikely people now connected for the rest of our lives," said Bill Ridle of the Crockett Lions Club.
"Bill Ridle was our angel," said Henderson. "He was Matteo's hero."
"This would not have happened without the Lions Club," said Lamach.
Along with raising thousands of dollars to build the park, many of the volunteers that built the playground and keep it up are members of the 45 Lions Clubs in the region.
New York engineer Dennis Wille of Leathers and Associates, specialists in community-designed-and-built playgrounds, developed the playground design, said Ridle.
Willes talked with children from many local schools to learn what makes a dream playground, also met with special needs groups to determine how to maximize accessibility and maintain maximum playability, explained Ridle.
"This was a community built project," Ridle said. "The community endorsed this ... community has taken ownership. It really makes a difference."
"Matteo's Dream" has been built, but Campbell would like to see his dream replicated in other communities.
"I absolutely think special needs parks like Matteo's Dream should be built," she said. "This is a place all children can come together and play."
The 125th annual Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1, is scheduled to be broadcast in Concord and Clayton from 8-10 a.m. on Channel 7 and the HGTV Channel; and from 8:30-10 a.m. on Channel 11.