name is Toody Maher and I’m a resident of Richmond,
Growing up, our family
“lived” in our neighborhood park. When we woke up in
the morning, my mother would take my brothers, sister,
and me to our neighborhood park in Montreal, Canada.
Late morning, we would come home for lunch, take a
nap, and then return to the park in the afternoon.
Everyone we knew in the
neighborhood––all the kids, all the families––went to
this same park every day. There was always
something going on! It was there we formed
friendships that lasted for decades; it was there we
explored, challenged, and discovered life; it was
there we found community.
As I drive around Richmond
today, I see so many little-used, little-loved, public
parks. These energetic hubs of community life are
lying in front of our eyes, dormant, yet bristling
with power and potential.
I was so moved by the sorry
state of the city parks near my house that in January
2007, I decided to do something about it. I started by
visiting every single park in Richmond––56 in total. I
was floored to learn that 22% of Richmond is park
land––so many parks and so little used!
Of all of the 56 parks I
visited, the ones that moved me most were eight,
little, pocket parks called “playlots.” Two
playlots caught my eye: “Solano Playlot” in Richmond’s
North and East neighborhood, and “Elm Playlot” in the
Over the next few months, I
did nothing else but eat, sleep, and research parks
and playgrounds. What I
discovered immediately was the growing body of
research pointing to the critical and essential role
of play in child development. Play is how
children learn. Play is the “mother’s breast milk” of
activities––the most potent way for children to
develop the cognitive, linguistic, social,
imaginative, and physical skills they must acquire to
reach their potential.
Everywhere I turned, there
was a growing chorus from pediatricians, child
development experts, and early childhood educators
about the urgent need for
better, more imaginative and stimulating, play
spaces for our young children. I decided to
do everything I could to transform existing, city
parks into high quality playspaces. To do so, I
borrowed from the best and brightest ideas from around
the world to create a new model for a park that more
effectively meet the needs of young children.
I started a community-based
organization called Pogo Park, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit
ABOUT TOODY MAHER, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF POGO
Toody is an artist,
inventor, and entrepreneur. She graduated from U.C.
Berkeley in 1983 and, along with her brother, secured
the distribution rights to Swatch Watch in the 11
Western States. In 1983, she helped to pioneer
Swatch’s product launch, set up the regional office,
and helped drive sales in her region from $0 in 1993
to $30 million in 1996. Afterward, she founded another
startup company which created the world’s first clear
telephone with lights (named Fortune
Magazine’s “Product of the Year” in 1990).
Also in 1990, Toody was named Inc.
Magazine’s 1990 “Entrepreneur of the Year.”
Later, Toody became
Business Director at Juma Ventures, a San Francisco
nonprofit the provided jobs and job training for
“at-risk” youth. At Juma, Toody created a series of
“social enterprise” businesses that included a Ben
& Jerry’s/Tully’s coffee concession at the Giants
and ‘49ers ballparks that employed 200 youth annually.
Next, she invented,
developed, and patented different products and either
sold or licensed them to other companies. She worked
as a consultant for a research institute at UCLA,
helping to translate their scientific, evidence-based
research into formats that people can actually use. It
was during this project, when she was working on how
to increase overall health and well-being of
communities, that she began to clearly see how
well-designed and well-conceived playgrounds could
intervene into the lives of children, families, and
Toody’s specialty is to
take an idea and manifest it. She can make things
happen and get things done. She has 25 years of
experience in building and growing businesses from
scratch. She is good at systems: designing and
creating an infrastructure to ensure that all the
parts work together.
She has built a network of
incredible, talented, able, knowledgeable people in
virtually every realm: engineers, graphic designers,
architects, artists, writers, animators,
photographers, poets, lawyers, accountants,
illustrators, industrial designers, public relations
specialists, insurance agents, web designers,
researchers, journalists, film and television
producers, directors, private investigators, doctors,
teachers, electricians, plumbers, painters,
architects, jewelry designers, cartoonists, draftsmen,
general contractors and arborists.
More than anything, this
project to revitalize Elm Playlot has absolutely
captivated Toody. This project would allow her to use
her skills to benefit the community in which she
lives, and could prove to be the most creative,
challenging, and fulfilling project of her life.
Toody with her niece and nephew
Founder / Director
(510) 215-5500 office