“One, two, three!” Ellen White, co-founder of Backyard Players & Friends, yelled into a microphone. “Get in the Backyard!” the crowd of guests answered in unison, as the Quinn family cut a ribbon, officially opening the long-awaited space.
Backyard Players & Friends, a Rockville Centre organization that provides programs for people of all abilities, joined forces with the Mary Quinn’s Mark Foundation and other community groups more than a year ago to repurpose the empty space behind St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on Hempstead Avenue. On Oct. 21, the dream of White, and co-founders Joan Kelly, Ryan Delaney and Christine Daly came true.
“It was through the kindness of St. Mark’s Church and the parishioners here to allow us to develop this land to support our idea of an outdoor classroom,” Kelly said. “Backyard Players and Friends started our very first class right here at St. Mark’s, and we’re so grateful for our friendship with the church.”
The space, dubbed Mary’s Backyard, is named after Mary Quinn, a Floral Park girl who was actively involved in Backyard Players. She was born with Down syndrome, and died in 2015, at age 16.
“She had quite a twinkle in her eye, and always an awesome pair of shoes on her feet,” White said to the attendees. “Mary Quinn had you the moment she stepped in the room. Her energy was contagious, but not as much as her laughter, and we loved building this playscape in her name.”
The Quinn family, along with a few hundred others mingled around the space — designed by Rockville Centre resident Maggie Gray — throughout the afternoon. A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the base of the play bridge preceded a performance by musicians who used the outdoor instruments implanted in the backyard.
Flowerpots, decorated with the names of those who helped the effort, hung on the space’s fence, as pumpkins added a festive feel to the backyard. Going forward, the space will be open to the public, and can be used for Backyard Players programs and workshops, as well as musical performances and other community events.
“We believe in inclusion, and through inclusion, there is diversity and strength,” Delaney told the crowd. “We work together so that every single person can have a space where they can share their creativity, joy and openness. We hope everyone’s able to enjoy this space and keep in mind our inclusive philosophy, and join us any time in the backyard.”