Giving Back: Volunteer consultant honouring father’s legacy with accessible ball field

Lisa McNeil-Campbell, volunteer consultant with palliative care, Eastern Zone with her father Walter McNeil.
Lisa McNeil-Campbell, volunteer consultant with palliative care, Eastern Zone with her father Walter McNeil.

In a baseball field overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Lisa McNeil-Campbell feels right at home.

Much of her life has been spent here at the Hawks Ball Field. Whether for ball games or other events, the field has always been a hub of activity for the community of Dominion, Nova Scotia.

It’s also the place where her father, Walter McNeil played, coached and watched baseball. From the time he could hold a ball, Walter loved baseball. When he was coaching, Lisa remembers her father always making sure each child had a chance to play.

“He always said, ‘you can’t learn if you don’t play’ – he wanted every child to feel like they were part of a team,” said Lisa, volunteer consultant with Palliative Care in Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone.

When Walter passed away in June 2019, it was those words that gave Lisa the strength and inspiration to honour her father’s memory.

“Da had three great loves – his family, baseball and volunteering in the community,” said Lisa with a chuckle. “He was such a volunteer all his life that we – my mother Toni, my sister Carrie and I – wanted to continue that in honour of him. We also knew we wanted to do something that benefited the community and involved the field because he loved baseball and loved being at the field. When we started thinking about how he made everyone feel part of a team, we knew we needed to do something that made the field fully inclusive and accessible for all ages and abilities.”

The current Dominion Hawks Ball Field.
 

That summer, a small organizing group came together and the Hawks Dream Field project started to take shape.

The project includes an accessible baseball field, a walking track, a splash pad and bocce ball court. A new building will house fully accessible washrooms and a canteen as well as storage for equipment. The project will also feature fully accessible dugouts and grandstands. Lighting and an electronic scoreboard will also be added. There will also be a space dedicated to the rich baseball history in Dominion and other communities within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

“When we were kids, we grabbed whatever – a ball, a bat, a glove – and we played,” said Lisa. “It didn’t matter what your age, gender or ability was or where you came from – everyone played together and had fun. That’s the experience we’re trying to build with the Hawk’s Dream Field – where everyone is welcome and all you need to do is have fun.”

The project has a total cost of $2.5 million and will be done in phases. Between funding from municipal, provincial and federal levels of government as well as support from a variety of community groups, corporate donors and individuals the project has reached a total of $1.2 million. Like many charitable organizations, the group had to move its fundraising efforts online to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic but is looking forward to getting back to more in-person events, including one around Christmas.

A rendering of the Dominion Hawks Dream Field.

So far architectural and engineering work through Glenn Group and Dillon Consulting is well underway and tenders for construction work closed on Oct. 1. The hope is to have shovels in the ground in mid-October to start construction.

Since the project began, Lisa has heard from many people who have family members with special needs. She understands how important this project is to them.

“Hearing their stories and knowing what this field, this project means to families and kids, it’s overwhelming,” she said. “When Da passed, I cried so many sad tears and now I’ve cried so many happy tears with every step this project has taken, every milestone it has reached and every person it has touched. I wish he could be here to see it and I hope he would be proud of it.”

For more information on the Hawks Dream Field, visit their website (https://www.hawksdreamfield.ca/), follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/hawksdreamfield/) or email the project team at hawksdreamfield@gmail.com.