A North Colonie Elementary school received a new playground over the weekend as volunteers gathered to build the playground in memory of a young boy that died tragically and unexpectedly.
More than 200 volunteers gathered on Saturday, July 12, to assemble and construct a playground and basketball court at Blue Creek Elementary School in honor of Vincenzo Rizzo after 18 months of planning and raising more than $82,000. With donations of money and products, more than $100,000 was raised for the project.
When Vincenzo died suddenly in January 2013, people started donating money to the Rizzos, and they weren’t sure what do with all the money that was coming in.
“Vinnie didn’t like the playground that was here, and when he passed away I don’t think anyone really knew what to do. So, they just started donating money, I didn’t want the money, so we figured out what to do with the money,” said Tina Rizzo
Rizzo also said the playground would be a great way to keep her son’s memory alive.
“I wanted to make his friends smile. They were all 10. I figured, what better way to make a kid happy then give them a playground? Now when kids are playing and they’re on this playground, who are they going to think of? They’re going to think of Vinnie, and they’re going to be happy,” said Rizzo.
The next step was to design the playground, and for that Rizzo looked to Pettinelli Recreation out of Rensselaer. Robert Pettinelli Jr. has exclusive marketing rights with Miracle Recreation. Rizzo and Pettinelli sat down at her dinner table. She described her son and what he liked.
Pettinelli brought in his father’s business, Pettinelli & Associates out of Burlington, Vt., to help assemble the equipment and also give a generous discount on the playground equipment.
The playground has some interesting features that ensure everyone can play on it.
“I designed the playground personally with Tina in mind, based on her son and what he liked. He was a big proponent of the kids that didn’t have a ton of friends, that were disabled or handicapped. The playground was designed around that,” said Pettinelli.
The playground includes ramps, so children in wheelchairs can navigate to different sections of the playground.
“A child with disabilities can interact with children that don’t have disabilities and feel like he’s not left out,” said Pettinelli.
Other elements of the playground include subtle reminders of Vinnie such as some pieces of equipment that are red because it was Vinnie’s favorite color or the fact that playground is designed in a V shape for Vinnie.
Blue Creek Elementary Principal Annette Trapini said the uniqueness of the playground is a reminder of how special a kid Vinnie was.
“For me, it is a fitting memorial to Vincenzo. He was this kid that you just couldn’t ignore the fact he was in a room. He just lit up the place. He was just a fun-loving kid that was always kind … He just had this incredible charisma that he used to make sure everyone always felt included,” said Trapini.
Many of the volunteers were parents of Vinnie’s classmates and wanted to come out and help with their children.
“All my kids go to Blue Creek, and my daughter, Hannah, was a classmate of Vinnie’s. We have another son going into first grade and figure he’s going to be using it for the next few years,” said Med Ethier.
While everyone was busy playing their part in the playground’s construction, the amount of support from the community has never stopped amazing Rizzo.
“I’m very, very happy and proud. Proud of being Vincenzo’s mom because his personality, and his friends (are) why everyone is here,” said Rizzo.