STAMFORD, Conn. -- The Stamford community came together Friday to build a playground in honor of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.
Workers were on the site early Friday morning at Stamford’s West Beach to erect a playground in honor of first-grader Jesse Lewis. He is credited with saving at least six classmates by telling them to run when the killer’s gun jammed.
The Sandy Ground Project is spearheaded by New Jersey firefighters with the goal of building a playground for each of the 20 students and six staff members who died in Newtown.
For Gina Aiello, the Stamford resident who is the chairwoman for the local Sandy Ground Project, the response by the community in donations and volunteer efforts was overwhelming.
“This is just amazing to see it all come to fruition,” said Aiello noting that Stamford public school students raised nearly $22,000 for the effort.
One volunteer who came out was Colleen Sharkey, 43, of Stamford, a member of the Stamford-based Backyard Humanitarian volunteer group. Volunteering for the event was a natural one for her and others, she said.
“It’s important. It touches all of our hearts and lives in so many ways,” she said.
The man in the middle of the work Friday was Rich Picerno, who with his wife, Toni Giordano, co-owns Giordano Construction of Kenilworth, N.Y.
The couple has been involved with the firefighters on various playground projects since 2007’s Hurricane Katrina, Toni Giordano said.
“It’s important to know that everything in this foundation is donated,” Picerno said. A playground like the one being built at West Beach would ordinarily cost $125,000 to $150,000 to build for all costs and labor.
The playground will be completely assembled by Saturday. The official ribbon cutting will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday.
On Friday, Jesse’s older brother JT, did the ceremonial groundbreaking while his parents Neil and Scarlett looked on. Neil briefly thanked all who came.
The project arose out of work that New Jersey firefighters had done in Mississippi communities affected by Katrina.
As these firefighters helped to rebuild communities affected by Super Storm Sandy, the Sandy Hook shootings occurred.
They decided to combine the two causes by building 26 playgrounds in honor of the 26 victims in communities in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York State that had been hit by Sandy, said Bill Lavin president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, in comments to the crowd Friday morning.