Young Leader Rehabilitates Playground in Allegheny County’s North Park-Flagstaff Grove

North Park Playground photo

North Park, Flagstaff Grove Playground

Before 18-year-old Maria Ciao receives her high school diploma, she will have received the Girl Scout Humanitarian Award for her recent efforts to fund raise and install accessible play components on her local playground. She’d previously earned the Girls Scouts’ Gold Award, which is the organization’s highest award, for this project.

While Gen Rec usually works directly with recreational directors installing bench in north parkrkand other leaders of organizations, it’s not everyday we have the opportunity to work with young people spearheading projects they’re passionate about. We hope this trend continues!

Gen Rec’s Curtis Bischof worked closely with Maria and her family, who got connected through a referral from Allegheny County Parks, a long-time client.

Last fall, Maria recognized the opportunity for sensory elements at North Park’s Flagstaff Grove playground whose wooden benches were also in disrepair. As the “hub” and “project planner,” she led the fundraising effort and learned quickly how to communicate and coordinate among various entities that would need to work together to make the playground improvements a reality.

At a young age, Maria learned the value of accessibility at Glade Run Lutheran Services. Through its Adventures Program, she assisted young people with autism. She keenly began to understand the sensory challenges they faced and how enriching different cultural and outdoor activities were for them. A visit to a large sensory playground inspired Maria to see opportunities for improvement years later in her community.

During her fundraising effort, Maria connected with the Autism Society of Pittsburgh, who donated $5,000, and received additional funds from her church’s local council of the Knights of Columbus, as well as friends and family.

anchoring north park benchThe Ciao family shared that Curtis was “phenomenal in his support.” “He was instrumental with input, labor and time throughout the process. We couldn’t have done it without him,” recalls Gary Ciao, Maria’s father. “He helped us zero in on several cost-effective, high-caliber and long-lasting products.”

These included three Landscape Structures’ “Learning Wall” sensory play panels, specifically Bongo Reach, Chimes, and Gear Panels, as well as durable, bright red and blue ANOVA benches and trash can.

Curtis, who has more than 20-years experience in leading community-build playground projects, managed the installation and guided the volunteers.

The Ciao family shared that it was awesome to “see Maria have a vision and put a recipe together to make it happen. She demonstrated patience especially during the winter months when the weather delayed completion of the project.”

Now, as springtime continues, the improvements to the playground – both visual and tactile – are creating a more engaging experience for people of all abilities at Flagstaff Grove!

Curious to learn about General Recreation’s unique community-build approach to park and playground development? Contact your Gen Rec Sales Consultant at 800-726-4793 or

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