The story behind the park: Joey’s Park 1

Joey's Park

Photo courtesy of Dara Archin at Play by Design, LLC


Who is the “Joey” behind Joey’s Park?

Joey O’Donnell was born with Cystic Fibrosis and spent much of his short life surrounded by loving friends and family. In 1986, while in the 7th grade, he lost his battle with Cystic Fibrosis and it was his friends who wanted to do something special to honor his memory. They came up with the idea of building a playground that would be named after him–Joey’s Park.

Joey’s parents, Kathy and Joe O’Donnell, loved the idea and jumped right in to help raise the funds to build this playground in honor of their son. They organized the first fundraising walk. Further help came from children who helped design the park and a large number of volunteers who helped with the week-long effort to build the original playground, which opened in 1989.

“It was a community effort”, Joe O’Donnell explained, “mothers, fathers, and little children” all had a hand in this passion project. Joey’s Park truly “capture[d] young Joey’s fun-loving and open spirit” (

Unfortunately, this original wooden structure eventually failed a safety inspection in 2011, after over 20 years of use, and was ultimately shut down. “People were surprised and devastated”, Dianne Miller, from Friends of Joey’s Park, recalled. However, “the wood has been exposed to the elements for two decades and it’s starting to decay”.

Not content to let Joey’s Park decay and ultimately disappear, Dianne, along with Ellen Schreiber, both from Friends of Joey’s Park, spearheaded the idea to construct a new Joey’s Park. The ultimate goal was to “retain the magic” of the original Joey’s Park.

As done with the original structure, children helped design the look of the new Joey’s Park. Hundreds also turned out for another fundraising walk and the community came together once again to rebuild this cherished playground. People who participated in the first community build expressed to Ellen Schreiber that it was a life changing experience for them and she hopes for the same from people who helped build the new park.

Now, children can enjoy the beautiful, new Joey’s Park, and know that not only does it honor the life of Joey but it also represents the community’s care and compassion for one another. They came together not once but twice to honor memories and to bring joy and happiness to families throughout the entire Belmont, Massachusetts, area.

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One thought on “The story behind the park: Joey’s Park

  • Michael Cohen

    Play By Design is proud to have been selected by the Friends of Joey’s Park to help them design and build this outstanding new playground. We believe it “retains the magic” and then some! We join Ellen in hoping this was a second life-changing experience for so many in Belmont. Yours is clearly a very special community.