Top feel-good sto­ries of 2018

Newark Post - - YEAR IN REVIEW - By BROOKE SCHULTZ [email protected]­

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.

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