Students love a happy space to play

BRIDGEPORT—“The first week after our new playground opened, one of my teachers came to me with tears in her eyes to thank me for getting it finished,” recounts Sister Christine Hoffman, ASCJ, principal of St. Raphael Academy in Bridgeport. “She told me that the students were having so much fun running around and climbing on the equipment and simply happy being children, and this was a source of joy for her.”

The St. Raphael Academy of the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport welcomes students in grades PreK-3. The initiative for the playground restoration for these youngsters began last year when Boy Scout Luke Feretti, a member of St. Stephen Parish in Trumbull and a senior at Trumbull High School, was exploring possibilities for his Eagle Scout Project. Luke connected with the diocesan Deacons Wives Ministry who knew of the tired condition of St. Raphael’s play space and the need for its renovation.

Luke agreed to take the project on. “I knew it was going to help kids who don’t have a lot of places to play in their neighborhood.”

When Father Giandomenico Flora, rector of St. Margaret Shrine in Bridgeport, dedicated the playground on June 22, the project had taken more than a year to complete, with assistance of a cadre of volunteers.

Luke’s Eagle Scout project was impressive in its own right. Luke met with Scout leaders and school board members, talked to contractors, and assembled a team of fellow Scouts to do the heavy work of hauling away the old equipment and clearing and leveling the land.

That project earned Luke his Eagle Scout badge, awarded at a ceremony this January.

His initiative set in motion the assistance of many others, a number of them in partnership with DWM and others connected to St. Raphael’s. “The playground project brought together many from our community, who gave of their time, talents and treasure,” says Sister Christine. “In particular, I am indebted to Luke and the Boy Scouts, who gave several days to the work, going beyond the scope of his Eagle Scout project by not only removing the previous structure but returning to assist in laying the new playground surface.”

After the old equipment was carted off, the degraded surfacing had to be removed—a huge job in and of itself. Then the enormous mountain of underlayment pellets for the new surface drew the Scouts again for this next phase, along with student volunteers from Sacred Heart University, parents from St. Raphael, and volunteers from the Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ). Angie Staltaro, program assistant for the City of Bridgeport, acted as project manager for part of this phase.

Luke was on hand right through the completion of the playground and its dedication by Father Flora. Headed for his freshman year at the University of Vermont this fall, the Trumbull High School graduate plans for a future in civil engineering.

Ilene Ianniello, president of Deacon Wives Ministry, was also on hand for the blessing. “When we walked on the grass-like topping of smooth artificial turf, it was like walking on a cloud,” she said.

In the end, the Deacons Wives Ministry was able to call on generous donors and volunteers for all expenses except that final topping, including the cheerful new playground equipment donated by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hamden.

Now enthusiastic youngsters could be seen bouncing up bright pink stairs, hiding in sheltered nooks, peering out of yellow portholes, choosing the long slide or the shorter one and swinging from the bars of the climbing dome.

“Our students love having this new space to play!” said Sister Christine, her face beaming as she watched the children’s joy.

(The only expense outstanding from the entire playground project is $10,000 for the turf surfacing. Anyone wanting to help out with this expense can send a check to Deacon Wives Ministry, 11 Green Acres Lane, Trumbull, CT 06611. Write “Playground Project” on the memo line.)