The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play was developed to honor the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut this past December. Throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, a playground is being built to honor each victim of the tragedy. The organization says, “May these playgrounds provide a symbol of hope, recovery, and a return to normalcy. A gift to our youth in an effort to enhance an sustain their precious childhood.”
On this Sunday at 11 am, at Riverside Park, right here in New London, a playground is being dedicated to Emilie Parker. Emilie’s teachers recall that she loved to play in the shade at recess and so when Bill Lavin, a New Jersey fire fighter who is spearheading the playground building initiative, saw Riverside Park, he knew it was a place to honor Emilie. The playground will be named “Emilie’s Shady Spot”.
Where Angels Play
The Sandy Ground Project has been possible through the generosity of Giordano Contracting, LLC owner Toni Giordano who has put her energy and funs into planning and building all 26 playgrounds. Partnering with the New Jersey State Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association (NJFMBA), this project is meant to beautify areas in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that were affected by Hurricane Sandy and honor the memories of each victim of the Sandy Hook shooting. Giordano explains,
“The first major meeting at the NJFMBA office in Rahway, NJ was packed with firefighters an police officers from New Jersey and New York, corporate executives, several foundation executives and volunteers ready. Ready to work, donate money, donate supplies, whatever had to be done to get this mission on the way. We all shared our stories, we all openly cried, then we hugged and shook hands making a commitment to build the 26 playgrounds.”
Retired New London firefighter, Vic Spinnato is helping to coordinate volunteer efforts for the Riverside location.
Connecticut College students may not be familiar with the history or the location of Riverside Park, but it is an important part of our city’s configuration. The 18-acre park comes off of the Thames River and reaches to the Northeast New London neighborhood and the backyard of the new Winthrop Elementary STEM Magnet School. The park has a rich history. It was founded in 1893 by the City of New London and was formally used as a picnic and swimming spot, and for viewing the annual Yale-Harvard Regatta. During the time of the I-95 construction, the park was poorly kept and rarely visited.
In 2010, New London City Manager Martin Berliner signed a contract to sell 9 central acres of the land to the Coast Guard Academy for $2.9 million. The citizens of New London strongly opposed this deal and gathered over 500 signatures on a petition for the city council to reverse its decision. Giving up Riverside Park was asking a neighborhood that has consistently been ignored by the city to give up more of the little that they did have.”
Director of the Office of Volunteer Community Services (OVCS) and Associate Dean for Community Learning, Tracee Reiser explained that, “Efforts are stronger and more solidified by infrastructure and the new found relationships between the city of New London and its citizens.” She explains that the upkeep of the park has been, and will continue to be, a collaborative effort. Associate Director of OVCS Kim Sanchez echoed Reiser’s optimism for the project.
A grassroots organization Friends of Riverside Park work continuously to defend the park and have played a supportive role in the building of Emilie’s Shady Spot. In addition, Winthrop is working to incorporate the park into some of their learning initiatives. This past weekend, Explore, a group of prospective high school students, participated in community service to clean up the park.
Any and all volunteers are welcome to help clean the park in preparation for the ribbon cutting on Saturday November 16. Rides will be available through OVCS.