Westmere Elementary seeks sneakers to build a playground to serve all students

GUILDERLAND — Jennifer Romano cares about children having a safe place to play.

She is the mother of three students at Westmere Elementary School. Two years ago, she told The Enterprise one of her children was sexually assaulted by another student on the playground. She attributed it to a lack of supervision, saying there should be more security cameras at the school.

“I offered to buy the school more cameras at the time, and when I followed up this past February, asking, ‘Where are we on those safety measures,” the school was very accommodating,” Romano said “They were slated to put in two more cameras, which I think were installed in April before the school year ended.”

After that, Romano spoke with Westmere principal, Beth Bini, who suggested the school get more inclusive playground equipment designed for students with mental and physical disabilities.

Romano is working now with the Parent-Teacher Association to raise funds for new playground equipment. Though not a member of the PTA herself, Romano said she likes to help out with the school and make it a safer place for the students.

She’s been selling toys she purchased to do so. “I tend to buy everything in twos — one to open up and play and one to hold on to,” Romano said. “I raised just about $2,400 by selling old Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer toys. I’m a big geek.”

Also, for her children’s birthday party recently, instead of gifts, they accepted donations to the PTA. Romano said about 100 people showed up for the party.

These funds went toward an inclusive playground spinner, which looks like a traditional merry-go-round, but with seats for children to sit in. Romano said her cousins also donated a harness swing to the playground, which looks like a mix between a traditional swing and a child’s car seat.

The new playground, once enough funds are raised, will serve students in kindergarten through second grade. Romano said the playground has been in need of updating for some time. 

“The current structure is about 30 years old, and you really can’t find replacement parts if something breaks,” Romano told The Enterprise on Tuesday. “A new playset like this could cost anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000.

“The school has about 550 students, so cut that in half, and you’ve got the number of kids who use the playground regularly.”

Romano and the PTA are partnering with Gotsneakers.com, a charity that recycles people’s old shoes and donates them to those who don’t have any. Their website says more than 600 million people around the world don’t own a pair shoes. Everytime a pair of shoes is donated, GotSneakers reimburses the fundraiser — $1 for slightly-worn shoes and $3 for new.

“People are always looking to clear out their closets,” Romano said. “Instead of a trash bin, why not donate them instead?”

Old shoes and sneakers may be dropped off in bins at multiple locations, including Westmere Elementary, the Guilderland Town Hall, Farnsworth Middle School, Guilderland High School, the Guilderland YMCA, and Guilderland Martial Arts with a few more locations to be established in the near future, Romano said. 

Romano said she’d also like to reach out to other organizations, such as local sports stores, for help in donating shoes.

“A lot of the times, when people buy a new pair of shoes, they’ll just leave the old pair at the store,” she said. “I spoke with someone at a shoe store who said the business usually just throws them out at if that’s the case.”

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