Work Together, Play Together

Founder and Magical Bridge Visionary, Olenka Villarreal (left), with long-time friends and co-founders, Jill Asher (middle) and Kris Loew (right). After working together to open Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, Olenka Villarreal, Jill Asher and Kris Loew joined forces to create Magical Bridge Foundation in response to the overwhelming need to build innovative and inclusive playgrounds in more communities. With seven daughters between them, Olenka, Jill and Kris are deeply inspired by friendship and family — and are dedicated to their mission of creating a new kind of community playground, where everyone can play together.

Olenka Villarreal, Founder and Visionary

Favorite thing at Magical Bridge Playground:“I love the top level of the playhouse café — gazing over the magic of the playground through the beautiful windows above the stage always makes my day!” Founder of the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, Magical Bridge Foundation and Vice President of the Friend of the Palo Alto Parks, Olenka brought together an effective team of experts, City officials and volunteers to design and develop the groundbreaking Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, CA. She has since emerged as a respected industry leader and advocate for playgrounds that reflect the needs of everybody in the community. She is co-inventor of several new technologies that enhance the play experience for individuals with special needs, and serves on several boards including Life Services Alternatives in San Jose. Prior to Magical Bridge, Olenka served as the Director of Marketing for TotalPass, Inc. and Siemens Communication amongst other roles for Silicon Valley companies. She has a degree in Economics / Public Policy and an MBA in Marketing. In June 2014, she was presented with the prestigious Jefferson Service Award in recognition for her efforts to make the Magical Bridge Playground a reality, and April 2016, Olenka was awarded the Outstanding Citizen Volunteer Tall Tree award from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. Olenka and her creative and musical husband live in Palo Alto with their two beautiful daughters and an adorable dog named Bailey.

Jill Asher, co-Founder

Favorite thing to play on at Magical Bridge Playground:“The Disc Swing! I love to swing, and especially LOVE swinging TOGETHER with my daughters. I laugh so hard that tears of joy stream down my face!” On any given Sunday, you may find Jill playing at Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto with her six-year-old daughter. In addition to leading the Public Relations and Digital Media Strategy for Magical Bridge Foundation, Jill actively engages with communities to promote inclusive play and kindness through a full spectrum of communications and fundraising programs. She is instrumental in promoting the values and principles of Magical Bridge to the media and the global community. Prior to her work at Magical Bridge, she served as Director of Public Relations for Appcelerator, Co-Founder and General Partner of SVMoms group, Vice President of Human Resources for Bessemer Ventures and Gloss.com and played similar roles for a number of Silicon Valley companies. She holds degrees in Economics and English. Jill and her CFO husband are the proud parents of three super talented girls and a cat named Kelsey (who thinks she’s a dog).

Kris Loew, co-Founder

Favorite thing at Magical Bridge Playground:“I love the roller slide! I vibrate and laugh all the way down, which always reminds me to take some time to let loose and have fun.” Kris leads the effort to create an effective and consistent brand, messaging and visual communication strategy for Magical Bridge Foundation. She helps create the inviting, visual appeal for Magical Bridge Playgrounds to foster a sense of well being and calm amongst visitors, especially for individuals who may be highly sensitive to their visual surroundings. She runs her own Graphic Design firm, is co-founder of Poketti, LLC, and previously served as Director of Marketing Communication for Brio Technology. She has a BA degree in English. As a volunteer, Kris mentors students in entrepreneurship and design, and provides graphic design and photography for various schools and civic projects. She lives in Palo Alto with her husband, two creative daughters, and a super cute bunny named Willoughby.

Samantha Frenkel-Popell, Magical Intern

Favorite thing to play on at Magical Bridge Playground:“I am in love with the laser harp! I see it as one of the core pieces of the park that brings everyone together, regardless of age, gender, and ability. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone at the harp without a smile on their face, because everyone loves making beautiful music!” Samantha was inspired to join Magical Bridge after attending the Grand Opening in April 2015. When she saw the kids (and adults) experience a playground for the first time, she knew Jill, Olenka, and Kris had something so unique and special that she wanted to be a part of it. When Samantha is not working at Magical Bridge, you can find her trying to rap all of Hamilton, reading books about U.S. history, playing with her dog, hiking the dish, obsessively following the presidential race, or exploring everything the Bay Area has to offer. Samantha is a graduate of Menlo School and getting really excited about attending Harvard in the Fall of 2017. Samantha lives in Woodside with her mom, little brother, and adorable labradoodle, Rezi.

Peter Jensen, Lead Designer and Landscape Architect

Peter Jensen is the key architect behind the Magical Bridge Playground, and is instrumental in developing the original design philosophy of Magical Bridge’s mindfully-designed play environment. A founder and principal at Groundswell Design, Peter has been the Lead Manager for both private and public projects, including these public projects, including: Northwest Park – Las Vegas (2004); Jefferson Elementary School Playground – Santa Monica (2008); Eleanor Pardee Park Playground – Palo Alto (2011); Magical Bridge Playground – Palo Alto (2015); and Bowden Park Playground – Palo Alto (2016)

Greg Wolff, Board Member and Director of Operations

As Executive Director of the non-profit UnaMesa Association, Greg helped the original Magical Bridge team establish the Magical Bridge Foundation as an independent non-profit with the processes and resources necessary to partner with cities to create additional Magical Bridge Playgrounds that build upon and improve the original design. Greg founded the UnaMesa Association to support community-based innovations in health, education, and social services. Prior to that, Greg served as a Vice President for Ricoh Innovations and has been a lead inventor and research scientist spanning the fields of information technology, machine learning, and professional services.

Barbara Butler, Custom Wood Structure Designer

Founder of Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, Inc, Barbara is one of the nation’s premier architects and builders of custom wood playhouses. Over the past 30 years, she has constructed hundreds of imaginative play spaces for both public and private spaces. These unique, custom projects involve tough terrains, unusual sites, special circumstances or special requests, such as matching existing architectural elements. Her projects have long exceeded ADA accessibility standards and ASTM compliance and use all natural and sustainable materials. Barbara designed and built the very first wheelchair-accessible two-story playhouse for Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto.

Jay Beckwith, Playground Apparatus Designer

Since the 1970s, Jay has been a leading voice in the design and development of play experiences that align with and support the critical needs of both children and adults for physical activity that enhances growth and well-being. Equipment based on Jay’s design for a “Post and Deck” system can be seen in almost every modern playground. Jay has written several books on designing and building children’s play equipment. He has also been involved with safety commissions, is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and has written publications and developed programs for playground safety. He has consulted with several playground manufacturers in their design processes and pushed towards new directions in play environments. He holds a lifetime achievement from Gymboree Play and Music for making this world a better place to play.