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‘Perfect timing’

State DEP awards Monroe $750K to build all-inclusive playground

Courtesy of Monroe Township
“I know it’s a dream of Tony’s, and now it is going to be a reality,” Mayor Greg Wolfe said of the future all-inclusive Finn’s Friends Park at the Pfeiffer Community Center championed by Anthony Iovino, whose son is autistic.

Anthony Iovino’s dream of a state-of-the-art, all-inclusive playground behind Monroe’s Pfeiffer Community Center is inching closer to reality.

Iovino – a local resident whose son Finn was diagnosed with autism at 2 – approached township officials with the idea last June and “obviously we embraced that,” township Mayor Greg Wolfe said in front of the playground site on April 27.

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“There’s some hurdles you have to get over,” he added of the future Finn’s Friends Park. “One of those is funding. How are we going to come up with over a million dollars to build an all-inclusive park for the children here in our community and other communities?

“Right now there are no other parks like this in Gloucester County.”

Then – “perfect timing.” Days before Monroe’s Autism Awareness Day event, the township received notification that it had been awarded $750,000 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program to create a Jake’s Law Playground.

“We are appreciative of the Green Acres award and very pleased that our application was so favorably received,” Wolfe noted. “This money will allow us to develop an all-inclusive playground that will be completely accessible for residents and visitors of all ages and abilities, thus providing the public with the opportunity to engage in active recreation.”

Build Jake’s Place (BJP) – a small, all-volunteer nonprofit in Pennsauken – has seen its slogan and goal of Playgrounds for Every Body come true. Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced $40 million in Green Acre funding for all-inclusive playgrounds in 49 state locations.

“I know it’s a dream of Tony’s and now it is going to be a reality,” Wolf stated. “We still have some hurdles to get over; we’re still going have to do some fundraising, along with the township kicking in money.”

Created in 1961 to meet New Jersey’s growing recreation and conservation needs, the Green Acres Program has directly protected more than 1.5 million acres of open space and provided hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities in communities around the state.

Monroe’s application was written by Triad Associates of Vineland, a community and economic development firm that has secured more than $1.5 billion in funding for its clients over the past 45 years.

Green Acres’ money will be supplemented by a local contribution of $250,000. Private funds to assist with the maintenance and to carry out additional work that contributes to the playground’s long-term sustainability and utility are expected to come from Finn’s Friends, a local nonprofit created by Iovino to champion the interests of those with autism and other physical challenges. 

Construction of the all-inclusive playground is expected to be completed in late 2025 and will be the first of its kind in Gloucester County.

“Monroe Township has long been committed to providing quality open space and recreational facilities for residents and visitors alike,” Wolfe nored. “This latest award is a continuation of that commitment.”

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