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April 24, 2017: Field Trip to Rotary Challenger Park with host Jim Zackowski, Executive Director   website

Jim ZackowskiJim is happy to see Rotarians come to "your" park; without Rotarians this park would not exist and he sees Rotary making a difference in the world every day. This is a rewarding experience for Jim — not just the cause, but also the people; the Rotarians.

The park was built in three stages, beginning with the ball diamond some 16 years ago. The cost was $15 million dollars and boasts barrier-free facilities on 25 acres of land. Through leverage, collaboration, cooperation, and leadership so much more can be accomplished. Rotary clubs in Calgary and Airdrie donated $1.5 million dollars. Volunteers accomplished this. Inclusion and integration of abilities, age, race, and gender are paramount.

Jim can proudly blow his own horn, that this is the 12th consecutive year the Park has achieved a surplus budget of $80 - $150 thousand dollars per year. How is this achieved? First, he uses a business model to position the Park as an efficient and effective operator. There are others in the business of developing the programs used in the park. Fifty to sixty various organizations use the Park in the peak season from May to September. These organizations are mainly not-for-profit working in the disability communities. It takes time for those in these communities to be comfortable and confident enough to take that first step to come out to the Park. Second is simply the facility itself, and third is community involvement. Jim sees this as a two-way street, where he likes to give back to those that help the Park. For example, every year strawberry shortcakes are purchased for the three tenants that use the Park all year round.

Jim gave us a tantalizing insight on the progress of a Center For All Disabilities. The fundraising hasn't gone as well as hoped; he doesn't know the final vision but he does know it will involve the community. Already $3.2 million dollars have come in from pledges, again from Rotary clubs in Calgary and Airdrie. One individual Rotarian has pledged $2 million dollars. This facility will sit next door on 5.34 acres that will be subleased at a nominal yearly cost from Calgary Airport Authority. That is huge, as it guarantees the land will be there. An agreement is to be signed hopefully this week with an anchor tenant. The tenant will raise their own capital to build the Center For All Disabilities, this then lessens the financial burden for the Park by $12 million dollars. Most importantly, it gets the momentum going, so everyone can see progress is happening. Jim will keep the club up to date with what is happening in this exciting new collaborative project.

Jim Zackowski and Ron Jones

Ron Jones said he was glad to be back in Calgary as he was reminded how snow looks, and he does miss all his friends at Calgary West. Ron thanked Jim for his presentation. He recognized the Park would not be showing sustainability if it was not for Jim's time, efforts, and ability. Instead of our traditional Boltman, Jim was presented with a cheque from the club in the amount of $3,000. The club has committed to donate $6,000 over two years. A donation will also be made to Operation Eyesight in Jim's name.

Terry also noted it was great to be part of an organization that built Rotary Challenger Park. Jim was thanked for his hospitality.

  • Chris Davis, Ron Jones, Jim Zackowski, and Terry Felton Chris Davis, Ron Jones, Jim Zackowski, and Terry Felton

reported by Judy Cochran

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