HARWICH — The effort to establish a Cape Cod Toy Library, a facility that fosters healthy child development through free play, remains alive, but in West Barnstable, not Harwich.
It’s been a couple of years since Chatham resident Deb Willsea floated the idea of the Cape Cod Toy Library, based on a similar project she founded and which has been successful in Rochester, N.Y. Willsea sought to purchase the former Woelfel Plumbing building at 432 Route 28 in Harwich Port for the library.
Securing a home for the library and establishing a hub for operations and outreach was the primary goal of 2018, she said, with the focus on finding a location on the Lower Cape in response to the feedback she received. Willsea was looking for a central location with visibility from the street, ample parking, lots of natural light situated in or adjacent to a natural environment.
The former Woelfel Plumbing location fit the criteria and she pursued the purchase of the building. Community awareness of the goal, operations and programs attracted highly skilled volunteers and advisers, and more than 70 volunteers committed to supporting the initiative, many providing long hours of pro bono professional time, she said.
“In just over six months, we successfully raised the seller’s requirement of $50,000 deposit toward the building purchase. However, the angel or investor funding support needed to make the purchase and development of the building did not transpire within the sellers allotted time frame,” Willsea said.
However, First Lutheran Church in West Barnstable offered Cape Cod Toy Library rent-free use of two classrooms, a large hall and meeting rooms as well as access to outdoor play with lawn space situated on Garrett Pond. This provides a home base to move forward developing the collection and programs, Willsea said.
The mission of the library is to provide enriching, accessible, culturally sensitive, educational environments and resources that promote learning through play. This will allow healthy child development while providing a community place for families to play and learn together and help reduce the isolation many Cape families experience.
“In order for children to grow into healthy, productive adults, play is essential for their cognitive, social-emotional and physical development,” Willsea said. “Through exploratory play, children develop problem-solving and social skills as well as their curiosity and motivation to learn. They experience joy in learning. A child’s first three years of play experiences are critical for healthy brain development.”
While the new location is a bit further from the Lower Cape than original envisioned, Willsea said it is easily accessed from from Route 6 via Exit 6.
“Our programs are for all Cape families and we look forward to welcoming Lower Cape families, many of whom have donated toys and volunteer time to make this a reality for children and families,” she said. “The indoor and outdoor spaces at West Barnstable First Lutheran Church provide all the features we have envisioned and serves as a perfect incubator space for Cape Cod Toy Library development.”
Ultimately, Willsea said, there is a need for a permanent location with ample space for the library, meeting rooms, parent resources, office space and kitchen as well as resources for educators, child care providers and mental health professionals.
The library hosts regular Family Play Days events on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide Cape families a place to spend time together in a screen-free environment where they can freely explore, experiment, and create with a wide variety of play materials for young children up to age 9, Willsea said.