Following my July 27 opinion column, “They paved paradise – and put up a parking lot,” about Westbrook City Hall’s apparent lack of community engagement these days, and after a citizen-led community meeting two weeks ago with over 100 concerned taxpayers about the city’s plan to develop the remaining downtown parking lots without citizen input, it’s only fitting to recognize a longstanding Westbrook organization that always has engaged with the community: the Cornelia Warren Community Association and its philanthropical “cousin,” the Warren Memorial Foundation.

For almost 100 years, the Cornelia Warren Community Association has pledged funds for dozens of community projects. These have included the Little League ballfields, the Westbrook Community Center, the Veterans Rest Memorial at Riverbank Park and, more recently, a community waterpark and other upgrades to the Cornelia Warren Outdoor Rec Area and a 2019 planned upgrade/expansion to Bicentennial Park (Westbrook dog and skate park). Although not every CWCA-funded project comes to fruition, most notably the community-driven waterpark addition and the citizen-supported Bicentennial Park upgrades, both canceled by the city, this is fortunately the exception, not the norm.

Established in 1925, four years after the death of S.D. Warren’s daughter Cornelia, the CWCA is Westbrook’s oldest charitable group and has invested millions of dollars into our community. Often confused with the Warren Memorial Foundation – a different Warren charity established four years later in 1929 on the 50th anniversary of the 1879 Warren Library founding – CWCA’s mission is to help fund local “brick and mortar” projects which promote recreation, open space and/or women’s self-esteem. Although its largest financial investment in history was to help transform the former Westbrook Middle School into the Westbrook Community Center, its signature/namesake areas are better known in the community as the Little League ballfields and the Cornelia Warren Outdoor Recreation Area. Formerly called the Cumberland Mills Playground, the Warren Outdoor Rec Area gained its Warren name sometime after the May 28, 1921, dedication of noted Boston sculptor Bashka Paeff’s famous “Boy and His Dog” statue – an artistic “hidden gem” of Westbrook tucked in the corner of the Warren Rec Area behind the softball field backstop. The area and statue were so important that the 1921 ceremony’s first speaker was then-Maine Governor Percival Baxter. Sadly, Cornelia passed away one week after the dedication ceremony. CWCA has supported and/or financed nearly every major recreational upgrade in the Warren Outdoor Rec Area ever since.

Meanwhile, the other local Warren-named charity – the Warren Memorial Foundation – has a slightly different focus in its funding mission: providing financial support for arts and culture projects, children’s programs and secondary education initiatives such as the new downtown Sculpture Garden. The 2009 sale of WMF’s Warren Library helped maintain a healthy balance sheet for its giving program – and will likely help support many artistic, cultural and youth-centric community enhancements for years to come.

As it approaches 100 years old, the Cornelia Warren Community Association, along with the Warren Memorial Foundation, will continue to honor the family who provided a living for countless Westbrook citizens over the years. In fact, two weeks ago the CWCA approved funding for an incredibly unique historical preservation project in Westbrook, details of which will be shared with the Westbrook community in the weeks and months to come. Every town and city in America should be so lucky to have a Cornelia Warren Community Association and Warren Memorial Foundation.

And with any luck – and the continued support of the Westbrook community – they should both continue to help make Westbrook a great place to Live, Work and Play for another 100 years.

Philip D. Spiller Jr. is a former recreation and conservation commissioner and former president of Discover Downtown Westbrook.

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