A Note from our Founder


While my career began as an educator my ability to meet the needs of my children only went so far. I thought if it was challenging for me to find and afford appropriate play materials for their very different needs, it would also likely be challenging for most parents.  In 1983 my spontaneous suggestion to a colleague of creating a “toy library” sparked interest for both of us!  The very next day, she discovered a 5-page article in Parents Magazine on - How to start a Toy Library! 

As we embarked on pursuing this idea, The Parent’s Magazine article (April 1983) on “Setting Up a Toy Library” gave examples of toy library models across the country making it easy to learn what might work for Rochester.  The first Toy Library in the US began during the Depression by volunteers. So we presented the idea to The Junior League of Rochester to explore the possibility of developing a toy library.  Soon after, a United Way of Greater Rochester needs assessment survey validated the need for a toy library. The assessment showed that childcare settings had minimal toys or books for children and that providers lacked knowledge of age-appropriate activities for children’s growth and development.

On October 1, 1985, to my great joy, Rochester’s Toy Library became a reality as a community resource for families, childcare providers, and educators. And so the first chapter of Toy Library’s story began, launched as a volunteer-based enterprise.

Rochester’s Toy Library quickly proved to be an effective way to support parents, childcare providers and educators in their work with children, including children with special needs. As a novel concept in Rochester the word spread quickly through word of mouth and the media.  Partnerships naturally developed with community businesses and organizations. Requests multiplied for programs, parenting workshops and training sessions including programs for families with special needs children. Within six months Rochester’s Toy Library became one of the largest toy libraries in the country – by its membership numbers, size of the collection and the square footage of play space. 

While there is much more to the Rochester’s Toy Library success story, it’s now part of the Rochester Public Library & Monroe County Library System, celebrating 32 years benefiting the community, impacting 10,000-12,000 children and families each year from across the city and county.

What GOT the ball rolling for developing a Cape Cod Toy Library?

Once again, a parent heard and responded to the concept “Toy Library” with enthusiasm, this time a Cape parent during a getting-to-know each other conversation. She immediately responded by encouraging me to lead the development of a Cape Cod Toy Library – as something she believes is needed and would greatly benefit children and families.

Given the success of Rochester’s Toy Library that I proudly celebrate, there is a desire to build on the success to create a Toy Library on the Cape – where our family has a history and a sense of home for five generations. The Cape is a natural place to expand this legacy – to create a Toy Library that will serve as an exemplary model for the State of Massachusetts and the nation.

Since the initial encouraging nudge in August 2015, I’ve met with dozens of early childhood professionals, organization leaders, educators, social workers, and foundation leaders on the Cape to acquire a sense of what educational resources are already available and to gauge the interest and need.  While tremendous work is being done by many dedicated people across the Cape, there does appear to be a need and wish for increased access to developmentally appropriate play spaces, educational resources and support for parents and childcare providers, especially for higher need families.

For more information, contact Deb Willsea, debw@capecodtoylibrary.org  585-330-4656