After the playground at Roslindale’s Sumner Elementary School was destroyed by arson in May, a group of Newton teens that had been volunteering there decided to take action to cheer up the children.
Seven kids from Newton’s Temple Emanuel had worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s Sumner Club for two years when they got the news.
“I found it devastating because I knew how impacted they (the Roslindale kids) were by this because that school doesn’t have that many resources,” said Sarah Kazarian, a rising ninth-grader in Newton.
After the arson, the area was fenced off and melted blue plastic marked where a slide once stood, according to Sheryl Kalis, a volunteer’s mother.
Three people have been arrested, including a 23-year-old man, and two Roslindale boys, ages 16 and 14. To date, thousands of dollars have been donated to help rebuild the playground that was used by hundreds of kids each day.
The Newton teens also decided to take action and lift the spirits of the kids impacted by the crime. To cheer up the elementary-aged kids, the Newton students planned a giant celebration and fundraiser held on June 14 at the Roslindale school for over 100 children.
“This was a nice way to say, ‘We love you,’” said Nina Vansuch, director of the Sumner Club.
The partnership between the Temple Emanuel volunteers and the Boys & Girls Clubs began two years ago when seven students at the temple were deciding what community service project they’d do ahead of their bar mitzvahs.
During this time students do a mitzvah project, which is Tikkun Olam, meaning performing acts to repair the world. It is a guiding principle of Judaism, according to Kalis.
The CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, Josh Kraft, is a Temple Emmanuel member and helped the volunteers find a club that would match their needs and interests.
One of the biggest projects the volunteers undertook in Roslindale was creating a library for the kids. Books are important to the Newton teens who have known each other for years and even learned to read together, according to Joanne Kazarian, Sarah Kazarian’s mom. The teens helped donate and raise funds to collect books that are wheeled out on carts as a roaming library.
The teens also read to the kids and help them with homework.
Now many of the teens’ schedules have filled up with sports and extra curricular activities but they have not forgotten the children; instead, they organize fundraisers for the organization.
Others at the temple have followed in their footsteps and gone to volunteer at the site. Many of the original volunteers have become teachers’ aides at the temple, using skills gained during their volunteer period.
Kalis said that this experience of volunteering reminded her of a story by author Loren Eiseley about a young man and an older man on the beach. In the story there are hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore that will die if not returned to the ocean. The young man walked along the beach and threw one starfish back in the water. When the old man said he could not save all the starfish the young man said, “It made a difference to that one!”
“The biggest thing is good outweighs evil,” said Joanne Kazarian. “One starfish can make a difference.”
To donate to help rebuild the playground, go to https://www.crowdrise.com/rebuild-the-sumner-school or make a check payable to the Charles Sumner School and send directly to the school at 15 Basile St. Roslindale, MA 02131.