The Dranesville District's new Lord and Lady Fairfax, Juliann and Dan Clemente, intend to use their new titles to raise funds for the project that got them nominated for the honor in the first place. The Clementes have been described as a driving force behind Clemyjontri Park and have now formed the Friends of Clemyjontri Park to ensure that after the facility is built, it will be maintained in the condition befitting such a special facility.
Clemyjontri Park will be the only park in the area dedicated to handicapped children. The land for the park was donated by a McLean resident, Adele Lebowitz, with the stipulation that a playground for children of different abilities be constructed and that it include a carousel ride. It was then up to the county and its residents to raise the funds necessary to get the project off the ground.
Individuals have been honored as Lord and Lady Fairfax since 1984 as a way to recognize outstanding citizens in the county. Each member of the Board of Supervisors nominates two residents in his district for the award.
“You don’t think about the obstacles these children face from the moment they get up the morning. Getting onto a playground shouldn’t be one of them,” said Juliann Clemente.
Dan Clemente said, “Our whole focus [as a society] is on getting handicapped kids into the mainstream, yet there’s not a single park they can use. We weren’t even looking for this, but it was presented to us and it clicked. I had never thought of a playground for the handicapped. I wish I could say I’d done the creative thinking on this.”
The pair is intimately aware of the issue and the needs of handicapped children because two of their grandchildren have special needs.
“ONE OF THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL joys of childhood is sliding down a slide or swinging on a swing. But a child in a wheelchair needs a special swing. There aren’t any here where they can enjoy that,” said Juliann Clemente.
“Handicapped children have not been mainstreamed physically,” said Dan Clemente. “They have been inside the school, just not in the schoolyard,” added Juliann Clemente. “This isn’t being done anywhere, and it should be. Talk about ‘no child left behind.’”
The Dranesville District supervisor’s office initially contacted the Clementes about helping to raise $500,000 for Clemyjontri Park. The county need was urgent because there are certain benchmarks that must be met in order for the park to become a reality. They ended up raising in excess of $700,000 in just six months and are continuing to pursue new sources to raise money.
“The Park Authority has limited resources, and there are deadlines we have to meet,” said Dranesville supervisor Joan DuBois. “They are out there working [this moment] to raise money and to get in-kind donations for the construction. They are really committed to this,” DuBois said.
“If you’re a longtime resident or a corporate citizen, how many opportunities can you think of where you can put your name on something like this?” asked Dan Clemente. “This could be nationally recognized and nationally lauded. This could be a template for national adoption.”
“We have a very donative community, both high profile and low profile, here in McLean. It’s a very philanthropic community,” said Juliann Clemente.
THE CLEMENTES HOPE that the Friends of Clemyjontri Park will be able to maintain the facility long into the future. “We’ve all seen places that fall into disrepair. We can’t let that happen here,” said Juliann Clemente. “This is a very complex park. It’s going to have the carousel, the house, and it’s in the middle of a residential area. We can’t let it slip into disrepair,” said Dan Clemente. “We think that’s an important aspect going forward,” Juliann Clemente said.
They are toying with the idea of a black-tie fund-raiser that will mirror the affluence of the community but “reflects the fun of the park as well,” according to Juliann Clemente.
Dan Clemente would like to see members of the Board of Directors from the Friends of Clemyjontri Park be local women. “I would like to see the Board of Directors be made up of mothers in McLean who are focused on children. Women are more sensitive to this issue,” said Clemente.
DuBois said, “Their commitment to this is incredible and invaluable. I call them the dynamic duo because that’s exactly what they are. We would never be where we are with this, without them.”