PATERSON, NJ- For Paterson brothers Avery and Hector Nunez the construction of a new playground at their school means “more fun.” For school counselor Marie Baez it’s something much more profound.
“These children see trauma on the streets,” stated Baez. But while the neighborhood they call home might expose them to crime and poverty, the new playground is an important addition to the nurturing environment their school offers them. Now, according to Baez, they can be “safe and active,” and have more opportunities to escape the difficulties of their community, further growing as the “amazing students” she is so proud to work with.
The playground, built through a collaborative effort between St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, KaBOOM, a national non-profit dedicated to giving all kids “the childhood they deserve filled with balanced and active play,” and The Travelers Companies, Inc, will now serve the more than 800 students that attend Full Service Community School #15.
With shovel in hand Richard C. Williams, Executive Director, St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation offered his appreciation for the nearly 250 volunteers that turned out on Saturday to assist in the construction saying that their work meant the completion of an important “passion project.” From application to construction the project was more than three years in the making, and included an extensive neighborhood assessment, as well as input from the students on what they believed the playground should look like.
The playground, Williams said, is also a reflection of the Full Service Community Schools Initiative in which St. Paul’s and Paterson Public Schools partner to make the school buildings a hub for a full range of children’s needs including academics, nutrition, and counseling.
Carlos Figueroa, Vice President of Community Relations, believes that it’s important for employees of The Travelers Companies, Inc., to be involved in volunteer projects like this one because it allows them to “engage the community we serve.” With more than 150 of his colleagues on hand today he hoped that the final product would help bring “transformation” to the neighborhood, making it into a place where kids and parents “grow and have fun.”
Joining his father and brother Jonathan DeJesus, 15, remembered playing on the same lot as a child and suggested it was his responsibility to volunteer his time because “kids need to come from a better place.” His goal, he said, was to “help pave the path.”
Several members of the Passaic County College chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the honors society for two-year colleges, also participated in today’s event. Valerie Altouma, a biology student who recently moved to Paterson from Syria to attend college said it “feels special to help the children of the community I call home,” and hoped that the efforts of those gathered today would “help make these children’s education more memorable.
“For most firefighters the job is about not just protecting the community, but also making it better,” said Paterson Firefighter Kyle Hughes who along with more than twenty members of Paterson FMBA Locals 2 and 202 volunteered for construction and grilling duty, preparing and serving over 250 hot dogs and hamburgers. “We want Paterson’s children to know we are here for them, and building this playground is part of that,” he added.
Asked what they would say to the all of the volunteers who came to their school on what would normally be a day off Avery and Hector Nunez offered simply “thank you.”