Sierer, others ‘jailed’ to raise money for Preston’s Playground
In the midst of the Fusion 5 and Dime race after-party Saturday morning, two Newark Police officers walked into Grotto Pizza and “arrested” Fusion Fitness owner Nic DeCaire and trainer Steve Sinko.
The officers led the handcuffed men to awaiting police cars and drove them to join several other inmates in a makeshift jail set up on Main Street.
Their crimes? Unwavering support of Preston’s Playground, the handicapped-accessible playground planned for the Newark Reservoir.
After all, as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
The mock arrests, all in good-natured fun, were part of a jail-and-bail fundraiser organized by DeCaire.
About a dozen people volunteered to go to jail, which was actually a tent in front of National 5 and 10. Over the course of a couple hours, they solicited donations from passersby and used social media to encourage friends to donate online. Each person had a goal of raising $1,000 in order to be “bailed out.”
The event raised more than $11,300, DeCaire said. Just as important, the visibility of the event, held during Newark’s Food and Brew Festival, helped volunteers spread awareness of the playground to people outside their usual circles.
“It was fun to be able to be out on Main Street and talk to people who don’t know about our project,” DeCaire said.
DeCaire and a host of other organizations and community leaders are two years into an effort to raise the more than half a million dollars needed to build the inclusive playground, which will allow all kids to play together, regardless of disability.
The project still needs about $100,000, but DeCaire is optimistic it can be built by the end of the year. The first stage, construction of handicapped-accessible bathroom facilities at the site, will begin soon.
The playground is named for Preston Buenaga, an 18-year-old Wilmington boy who has mitochondrial disease.
“If an environment is made safe and accessible for all children, then children do not notice another child’s disability or single them out. They will be able to play together side-by-side,” Preston’s mother, Deb, said. “This is something that Preston has had to deal with for 18 years. He has not been able to access playgrounds because of inaccessible play areas, whether there is mulch that he cannot walk through or playground equipment that is not structured for him to walk on instead of climb.”
On Saturday, the “inmates” used a variety of methods to solicit donations.
Mark Manniso used humorous Facebook videos both before and during the event.
“I don’t look good in bars. Look at these stripes; they clash,” he said in one video, imploring followers to donate – or bake him a cake with a file in it. “Help me. I’m going to have a roommate named Bubba.”
Joking aside, Manniso explained that his strategy for getting donations was to ask people to imagine themselves in the shoes of the kids who will benefit from Preston’s Playground.
“Think about how it would feel not being able to use a playground because of a handicap,” he said.
Dressed in prison orange, with a handwritten inmate number on her shirt, Mayor Polly Sierer called out to passersby to ask for donations. She also went out on “work release,” strolling Main Street with a donation bucket.
She said her network of friends and colleagues responded in a big way after she sent out an email asking for donations earlier in the week.
“Overnight, I got $1,700,” she said, adding that she eventually reached a total of just over $2,600.
Vincenza Carrieri-Russo and friend Sierra Wright used social media to spread the word about the project to the younger generation.
“It’s an incredible cause people need to be educated about,” Carrieri-Russo said.
DeCaire was grateful for the number of people and organizations who came together to make the fundraiser a success.
“It shows the Newark community,” he said. “The police got involved, the National 5 and 10 got involved, the mayor got involved. It shows the uniqueness we have here.”
To donate, visit prestons playground.com
“Inmates” Steve Sinko, Preston Buenaga, Vincenza Carrieri-Russo and Sierra Wright pose while raising money for Preston’s Playground on Saturday.
Mayor Polly Sierer begs for “bail” money on Saturday to raise money for Preston’s Playground.