PATERSON, NJ - Students at Paterson’s School 12 have a new playground to enjoy thanks to the volunteer efforts and generosity born from a partnership between Paterson Public Schools, the New Jersey Community Development Corporation, and Alexandra’s Playground.
Alexandra’s Playground is a non-profit organization launched in memory of Alexandra Vitale who lost her life in a sailing accident in 2008. Since her death, her parents, Dr. Michael and Andrea Vitale, have led the construction of 26 playgrounds, including six in Paterson. Each project, they say, is constructed in the spirit of play of their daughter who was just three years old when they lost her.
While the original community build was postponed by weather in November the project moved forward, and on a sunny Saturday was completed as students armed with paint, brushes, and pans created a hopscotch area and game sites on the playground black top. On the far wall, the school’s mascot, a tiger, was also painted.
Prior to the formal ribbon cutting, administered by Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Superintendent of Paterson Public Schools Eileen Shafer, NJCDC Founder Bob Guarasci,and others, volunteers and event organizers heaped praise on the Vitales and their four children for their service, and congratulated School 12 students for energetic volunteerism.
“This is a great day for the children of School 12,” Shafer told those gathered with the completed project as a backdrop. “Many of the buildings for the 28,000 children that attend our schools are over 100 years old. Providing a place for children to play outside provides a safe environment. Children can now socialize with their peers and engage in physical activity.”
“You are true leaders for giving back to the community,” Board of Education President Oshin Castillo told the attentive students.
Showing all the poise of her fellow speakers, though a generation or two their junior, 8th grade student Lymesshia Bethea also addressed the crowd saying that “Now, when I come outside for recess, I see the little ones playing,” adding that “when we grow up, we will tell about this playground and what happened here.”
With the formal ceremony over and new play space ready for use students Chelsey Medina and Cristian Zelaya commented on their favorite playground addition, the supernova, a round circle that spins and tilts simultaneously.
“I like the ride but it goes so fast it makes me dizzy,” 13-year old Chelsey said.
“The ride is so fun that little kids and even 7th and 8th graders ride on it,” Cristian, 14, continued. “After school, older kids come and play on it.”
Seemingly transforming from students to reporters Lymesshia, Chelsey, and Cristian stopped their play long enough to pepper Lori Hrbek, the organization’s executive director, with questions.
“How does it make you feel when you see children laughing and playing on the playgrounds you have built,” Chelsey asked to which Hrbek offered without hesitation that “It’s a very rewarding feeling,”
“It's wonderful to see the children running around the playground and having fun. And the teachers appreciate it on a different level as some have been teaching here for twenty years and so have waited even longer than the children for a playground.”
She also noted, "It's touching when the children understand the loss of Alexandra."
“You have taken sadness and turned it into smiles,” Sayegh said puntucating the meaning behind the effort. “We may never meet Alexandra but the children that play on this playground will know who she is.”
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