By Jessica Easthope
When you’re a kid, it doesn’t get any better than the rush of recess on the playground and being silly on a slide. At St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, Queens, something so joyous was born out of sorrow.
“My mom was completely healthy one day and the next she was in the hospital and fought for 17 days,” said Kimberly Levin, the Vice President of the Unsung Siblngs Foundation.
Early on into the pandemic, Kim’s mom Dottie died of COVID-19 and a proper funeral wasn’t possible. But for Father Joseph Fonti, pastor of St. Mel’s Church, he gave her family some closure.
“He allowed us to bring our mother’s coffin outside of the church,” Kim said, “and family and friends were scattered all over the street as he screamed into a microphone giving my mother’s final blessing.”
After her mom’s passing, Kim – a St. Mel’s alumna, was driven to give back to her school and church with the help of her family’s non-profit, the Unsung Siblings Foundation.
“When we met with Father Fonti, we said ‘what can we do for you now,’” Kim said. “And we talked about a few different things and the word playground was said.”
The foundation took bids, found a company and in a few months, the playground was built.
“The glory of God is when we’re fully alive,” Father Fonti said, “and if a playground can bring that out, it’s not only lifting them up, it’s lifting us all up.”
When it came time to raising money for the playground, Kim called on her best friend RoseMarie Lanzetta. Kim and RoseMarie’s moms were also best friends, inseparable for decades and now together again.
“We grew up together as sisters pretty much and they really wanted to honor my mom in a way that she deserves and this wall it’s a symbol of who they were,” RoseMarie said.
The Unsung Siblings Foundation raised $68,000 and paid for the rest of the $81,000 playground named for Kim and RoseMarie’s mothers, but for Principal Amy Barron, it’s priceless.
“There’s no sound more beautiful than the joy of children laughing and playing,” Amy said, “and I’m so blessed to be able to hear that every day on that playground that was gifted to us.”
To thank everyone who made the playground possible, Kim created a donor wall with one special tribute: butterflies.
“It’s about new life, transformation, rebirth,” Kim said, “and our mothers were symbols of strong, beautiful women who were about their family first, faith and their friends.”
Now the playground is bringing together past and future generations of St. Mel’s students. They’ll always remember it as the place where they first spread their wings.