By Anna Gustafson
Darryl McDaniels from Run-DMC, JetBlue Airways Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger and hundreds of volunteers last week unveiled a playground at Forestdale in Forest Hills that will serve as a safe haven for foster children and their families.
“The kids will be in a situation where they will be around other kids like them,” said McDaniels, who recently co-founded the Felix Organization, a nonprofit that sends foster children to summer camp. “This playground symbolizes what can happen when a community comes together.”
JetBlue, which has its headquarters in Forest Hills; KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit; and more than 300 volunteers helped to build the playground in less than six hours Sept. 24. The playground was originally designed by a team of foster care children and is at the 112th Street campus of Forestdale, the largest and oldest foster care nonprofit in Queens.
Forestdale provides assistance to about 500 children in foster care and their families as well as 75 children whose families are in danger of having to turn their children over to the foster care system.
JetBlue funded much of the playground’s price tag and the area will be a place where Forestdale’s children can spend time with their foster and biological families.
“To think the kids designed the playground and can see it come to life is pretty amazing, to say the least,” Barger said.
About 35 foster children gathered at Forestdale in July to help design the playground, which includes a rock climbing wall, an obstacle course, monkey bars, a slide and swings.
“Our kids are often depressed because of their situation in life, so they don’t go out of their houses very often,” said Anstiss Agnew, Forestdale’s executive director. “Here they can have a safe place to go outside to a place that takes them away from their everyday worries.”
Far Rockaway resident April Soto, a 19-year-old foster child at Forestdale, said the playground will play an important role in the lives of children who often feel isolated.
“This is amazing,” Soto said of the playground. “I’m going to be the first one on it with the kids.”
Jermaine Alfred, an 18-year-old foster child from Jamaica, said the playground will be an “outlet for negative feelings.”
“A lot of kids in the foster care system feel low, and some are abused and neglected,” Alfred said. “They can come here and they can take over the playground. On the playground, they can be whatever they want to be.”
Lions Club members Bernice Diaz, Ava Barzvi, Maureen Thomas, Steve Ramirez, and Adina Callender said the fact the playground was built in less than six hours is a testament to what community members can do when they come together.
“There’s a change in the air that I hope our community and neighbors will take a hold of, and that is volunteerism,” Ramirez said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.