|At the groundbreaking: From left—Brennan Heffernan, Northern Highlands EA; Lisa Adams, Morris County EA; Kathy Assini, Delsea EA; Tom Predale, UniServ Rep.; Bob Blistan, NJREA member; Marie Blistan, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer; Bill Lavin, President of NJFMBA; Dave Pinkus, Monmouth County Vocational EA; Karen Gorzynski, Somerville EA; and Don Stech, Woodstown-Pilesgrove EA.
Over the course of just 34 hours, a state-of-the-art playground was built on First Avenue’s beachfront thanks to The New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Foundation (NJFMBA), NJEA, and other key players in this coastal community that was hit by Superstorm Sandy.
This is the seventh of 26 “The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” playgrounds. According to William J. Lavin, NJFMBA’s President, the project was inspired by the violence in Newtown, Conn., and it is also an effort to restore the storm-ravaged east coast with living memorials to all children who have been victims of violence while creating safe, fun places for children to be children.
The Manasquan playground was built in memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School student Olivia Engel, a victim of the Newtown tragedy. Olivia's personality, including her love for butterflies, dragonflies, boats, and the ocean are integrated into this beautiful, beachside playground.
Attendees included members of Olivia’s family, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Marie Blistan, local firefighters and dignitaries, Sandy Ground committee members, Sureplay International, Giordano Contracting, Union County Police, and Fire Pipes & Drums, and the SquanStrong community.
Blistan said it’s important for the NJEA to get involved in a project like this because “whether it is in a classroom, in a hallway, on a bus, in a cafeteria, or here, it is all about community. We come together to support our children and families, no matter what the circumstances.”
Manasquan Education Association PRIDE Representative Gretchen Boodey said, “We’ve been actively working to help the community and Squanstrong since the day after the storm, and it’s grown into an incredible outpour.”
Squanstrong, a nonprofit group created to help restore and rebuild Manasquan after Sandy, provided significant funding for the playground. NJEA also made a generous contribution for this playground and each playground for the state of New Jersey.