A Park For All

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Mariana Sapeta stands next to her vision, a handicapped swing for Burns Park.

Do you remember what it felt like as a child to hop on a swing, pump your legs back and forth and fly through the air, the exhilaration of flight and the wind on your face? But what happens if you are a child in a wheelchair? You would never experience the sheer joy that other kids experienced. Marina Sapeta, a senior at Plainedge High School, understood this and decided to do something about it.

“I remember being at a park and seeing a 4-year-old in a wheelchair watching his siblings play on the swings and he looked so sad because he couldn’t join them,” said Sapeta, who researched and found that 14 percent of kids in the United States are in a wheelchair. “I wanted to see how many accessible play things there were for them and was surprised that there really wasn’t much. I found out that Rockville Centre created a swing for a little boy who was wheelchair bound for life so I thought, ‘why not have a handicapped swing in Massapequa?’”

This became Sapeta’s mission as her gold project for the Girl Scouts. Last year, she brought her ideas to Assemblyman Joseph Saladino’s Marine Expo and had the visitors vote on the best type of swing for a handicapped child: a platform swing or a free standing swing. Sapeta then took this to the Town of Oyster Bay Parks Department and with the help of George Baptista and Sarah Cimino, they started to get to work.

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Nico of Patchogue is given the honor of testing the swing for the first time. (Photos by Cynthia Paulis)

The platform idea, although ideal because the wheelchair could just roll onto it, turned out to be too costly and had too many complications with safety issues. A different swing was selected, which resembled more of a car seat for children, giving support to the head and sides with a safety handle in front. Sapeta began fundraising for the swing and with the assistance of the Town of Oyster Bay, her vision became a reality as the first handicapped swing in Massapequa was installed at Burns Park.

“I was so excited and it was such a relief that it all came together,” said Sapeta on seeing her vision come to fruition. “It felt good that I accomplished my original goal and that I was able to follow in my grandpa’s footsteps in giving back to the community.”

Family and friends were on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony along with Saladino, Senator Michael Venditto and the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce, who all had high praise for this 17-year-old visionary and awarded her several citations for her work. Sapeta is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Basile, who was the past chamber of commerce president and was well loved in the community for his volunteer efforts.

“When I bring my son to play on the swing set he will look at this and be very jealous,” said Venditto, who is the father of a toddler. “Thank you for your great contribution to the town. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about PaPa (Joe Basile). This is really a testament to him, because if you are able to create a great message like he did to help other people and have that filter down to future generations as it is in your case, that shows the person you are. He is living on through you and we are so proud of what you have contributed to this community.”

Saladino also spoke about Sapeta’s grandfather, and how he spent his life helping people, just like his granddaughter.ParkSwing_110415C

“This community is filled with leaders, so many who are here today, but you represent the future leaders of all young people of this community that we love so much,” he said. “This project speaks volumes about how we embrace everyone in our community and our state.”

Sapeta received the citations, the ribbon was cut and a young boy named Nico from Patchogue went for a test ride in the new swing.

“In spite of some setbacks, I never felt discouraged because I knew in the back of my mind that no matter what happened, at least I brought it up to everyone’s attention that there needs to be a change,” said Sapeta on the park’s newest addition. “The best part of this project is knowing that I’ve given at least one child the chance to play with their friends and family and giving them a smile on their face.”

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