Top feel-good stories of 2018
Although Oxford Dictionary has crowned “toxic” as its Word of the Year, 2018 certainly wasn’t all bad.
From the completion of a playground that allows all children play together, to the city honoring those who have made an impact, to children supporting their peers, this year has shown how the Newark community looks out for, and champions, each other.
Below, find a list of Newark’s kindest moments of 2018:
Preston’s Playground opens for all kids to enjoy 1.
Three years after it was first dreamt up, Preston’s Playground – “a place that will change lives,” according to Deb Buenaga – was finally realized.
The 6,000-square-foot playground was spearheaded by Buenaga after she and her family visited an accessible playground in Virginia. Preston Buenaga, who was 16 when the project began and recently turned 20, has mitochondrial disease and spends much of his time in a wheelchair.
Working with Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Racing, Buenaga raised more than $500,000 to create a playground designed to be accessible for all children in Newark.
Ramps allow kids in wheelchairs and on walkers to get up on the platforms, and the ground is covered with a rubberized surface, rather than mulch, which is hard to navigate in a wheelchair.
“Everyone is differently abled, and we all want to play together,” Buenaga said to a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered to celebrate the playground’s completion in November. “It’s not a playground for children with special needs; it’s a playground for everybody.”
Newark community supports Mickey Merrill 2.
When Michaela “Mickey” Merrill was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a fatal genetic disorder, the Newark community was quick to respond.
The Newark Post first told the story of Mickey’s family in 2017, when Mickey was diagnosed with what is sometimes referred to as “children’s Alzheimer’s disease.” Sanfilippo causes children to gradually lose their abilities and eventually slip into a vegetative state before dying, usually in their teenage years.
This year, Newarkers pulled together to show their support.
In March, 11-year-old Blakely Stawicki rallied her friends to set up a shoe collection drive through the company Funds2Orgs. The new and gently-used shoes she collected were sent to developing countries, where “micro-entrepreneurs” clean them up and sell them to earn money.
“I wanted to help her,” Blakely said at the time. “I found a kid-friendly way to help.”
In August, the community turned out to a concert at Delaware Park that raised money to support Mickey, and in October, hundreds of people packed into the back parking lot at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen on Saturday for the third-annual Grainfest. Proceeds raised from the the music and beer festival went to the family.
Over the summer, Mickey was accepted into a clinical trial.
Newark honors service of Elwood Roy and Jerry Fickes 3.
The legacy of Elwood Roy, the community leader and World War II veteran known to friends as Puddy, will live on permanently after members of the New London Road community reunited to name a new street after him.
Jamie Roy described his father as an “unsung hero” of the community.
“This was a village,” he said. “He was a father to some of the fatherless in the community.”
Also this year, Newark dedicated a trail in Rittenhouse Park to fallen firefighter Jerry W. Fickes, an avid outdoorsman.
Fickes, 51, was one of three Wilmington Fire Department firefighters who died from injuries suffered when a burning building in Canby Park collapsed on Sept. 24, 2016. A Newark resident and U.S. Army veteran, Fickes was also a volunteer with Aetna and at one time served as an assistant chief.
“Our simple hope is that as generations walk this trail dedicated to Jerry they ask, ‘Who was Jerry Fickes?’” said Dan Seador, president of Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company. “We hope they will research his name and be inspired by the character of a man who gave himself completely in service to his community.”
Volunteers brighten halls at Jones through sciencebased murals 4.
At the start of the new year, in honor of Martin Luther Jr. Day, 100 volunteers arrived at Jones Elementary to transform several blank walls into colorful murals depicting science-related scenes. The project was organized through United Way of Delaware.
“We needed to make the environment of the school more conducive to learning,” said Principal Shevena Cale, adding that the mural reinforces the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM.
The school’s lobby features an aquarium design, while a wall outside the cafeteria features a tree displaying facts related to diversity, inclusion, STEM, environmental science and other topics.
“This is amazing,” Cale said. “It does your heart good to know people are still willing to help.”
Downes Elementary students chat with Chinese school 5.
During their summer vacation, a group of Downes Elementary School students gathered at the Newark Free Library to chat with their peers in a dialogue that spanned languages, cultures and timezones.
The students, who are enrolled in the Chinese immersion program at Downes, spoke in Mandarin with six students from an afterschool English learning program based Beijing.
“I’m proud of the fact they were so excited to do it,” said then-Principal Trish Prettyman. “It’s a scary thing, when you think about the fact that you’re on stage, in front of strangers, talking on a camera. I thought they were really amazing; I was very impressed.”
When the class of fifth graders graduate from Downes in June, they’ll continue their bilingual education at Shue-Medill Middle School. Eventually, the program will be rolled out at Newark High School.
Students create ‘blessing box’ to support classmates 6.
When three 11-year-old Girl Scouts wanted to find a way to help their community, they decided to support their less fortunate peers.
In May, Nabell Kiflemariam, Alyssa McLain and Noelle Turner built a “blessing box” for Downes Elementary School as part of their effort to earn a Bronze Award, one of the highest awards given by the Girl Scouts.
The box is stocked with a variety of nonperishable foods and kept in the nurse’s office. When school administrators become aware of a family in need of food, they can help out by sending home a bag of food from the blessing box.
“I’m proud,” said Alyssa, who is in fifth grade at Downes, along with Noelle. “It kind of makes me feel like I’m a helpful person.”
Preston Buenaga, the namesake of Preston’s Playground, checks out the playground in November.
Blakely Stawicki, 11, reaches for a shoe as she sorts through some of the 1,000 pairs of shoes she collected in March as part of a fundraiser for a young Newark girl who has a rare genetic disorder.