PORTLAND, Ore. — Cody Goldberg has some amazing memories from the days when he and his wife started Harper’s Playground. One is his time at what’s now Providence Park, during the days before the Portland Timbers joined Major League Soccer, when the stadium was under construction a decade ago. Another was an early meeting with the University of Portland women’s soccer team — an early source of support for the Goldbergs’ project — and another still is an hour spent over coffee with a Timbers legend, Mick Hoban.
It was that hour with Hoban that stood out to Goldberg as he remembered his project’s origins. Starting in 2009, he and his wife, April, were driven to make playgrounds more accessible in the wake of their five-year-old daughter, Harper, having her walker get stuck in the wood chips of a local park. “Harper's Playground was really the motivation to create a space where our daughter could play alongside everyone in the community,” Cody says. Portland Parks and Recreation didn’t have the money to help. Hoban had other resources that could.
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“By the end of our hour, [Hoban] told me, ‘I’m all in,’” Goldberg remembers. It was one of the first times he and Hoban had ever spoken. The meeting with the Pilots women came shortly after — after Hoban leveraged his four decades’ connection to The Bluff.
This year marks the 10th year of Harper’s link to Stand Together, the community outreach arm of the Portland Timbers and Thorns. The team started working with Harpers’ in 2011 and has made the organization a part of Stand Together Week every year, since.
“The alignment between the Timbers front office and the Timbers Army to coordinate,” early events at Providence Park, Cody remembered, “not only raising a check in front of the Army but also being broadcast up on the jumbotron and announcements being made, [those] made us feel a lot of love from the community and gave us a chance to stand up and let 20,000 people know what we were up to. It just felt very good and gave us a lot of confidence that we were going to get this ambitious plan done.”
Over the first years of Harper’s, there were other early adopters. The Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association in Northeast Portland quickly came on board, and local media, along with the city’s then-mayor, Sam Adams, provided early recognition. A grant from the W. Glen Boyd Charitable Foundation and various fundraisers — from bake sales to a gala, to scarf sales at UP games — helped jumpstart the project’s early resources.
At the time, Goldberg was working for Adidas, where over the course of a decade-plus he climbed from the company mailroom to a place in product marketing. He eventually left to devote his time to Harper’s, but it was through Adidas that he ended up connected with the Timbers. Ten years later, a cleanup of Harper’s Playground was the first Stand Together Week’s 20 events between Sept. 5 and 11.
“We care so deeply about maintaining our flagship location, Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland. That's where the annual Stand Together has always been,” Cody says. “That's important because we look at that as our showroom. It's literally the first of many now, and it's the model that all the others are based on.”
It’s also not supported by Portland Parks and Recreation. Harper’s Playground’s vision of being a fully accessible, sustainable space can only be achieved if the community helps.
“Volunteer efforts are literally required to maintain that status,” Cody reiterated. “So [the connection with Stand Together] means a lot to us in terms of how to make sure there's better awareness that the space exists.
“Because in the last 10 years, there are people who have moved to Portland who would have never known about it if not for a promotion that Stand Together gives it … We love doing these cleanup parties because it's a chance to share our story. It's really meant to be a community-activated space. It's so much more than just a playground.”
This year’s Harper’s event was set aside for the 107 Independent Supporters’ Trust, which Cody highlights as integral to the organization’s growth. Team mascot Timber Joey Webber was a part of the cleanup event, as were Thorns FC players Olivia Moultrie and Meaghan Nally. Over the course of three hours on Sept. 6, the crucial, constant work of a self-supported playground was done, with the group’s weeding, planting, and cleaning moving the space forward.
Others will step in over the year. As it’s always been, Harper’s Playground continues to be broadly supported, and with the messages of sustainability and accessibility at the heart of their mission, they continue to bring more people into the fold. Just as Stand Together has grown to support a week of continuous projects, Harper's has grown to support locations from Seattle to Salem, and in their funding, funding, and endorsement of standards, they are connected with parks from Indiana to Tokyo.
By the time 2022’s Stand Together project arrives, Harper’s will have taken another step forward. Stand Together will be there to take it with them.