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North Hempstead uses parks to display students' 'thank you' artwork to frontline workers

Twins Rebecca and David Syers Jr., 11.

Twins Rebecca and David Syers Jr., 11. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Janice Syers teared up when she saw her children’s drawings of a nurse on a billboard.

They were part of a display of 10 billboards showing 1,026 patches of artwork schoolchildren made to honor frontline workers.

Syers’ twin children, David Jr. and Rebecca, 11, drew a female nurse wearing blue scrubs. One was decorated with pink hearts and both included a handwritten "Thank You." The siblings are fifth-graders at St. Aidan Catholic School in Williston Park.

"I was so astounded," recalled Syers, an emergency department nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "I was, from the bottom of my heart, so happy with all these pictures and these children wishing us luck and being safe. It was just very touching."

The billboards Syers saw at Michel J. Tully Park in New Hyde Park were installed by North Hempstead Town, which collected digitally submitted artwork by students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Town staff put them together in a quilt-like pattern with patches of individual pieces.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth encourages visitors to view the installations at Tully, North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington and Martin "Bunky" Reid Park in New Cassel until July 23. Afterward, Bosworth said the town will offer them to schools for display.

"It’s board after board after board of these pictures and notes that are patched together in this virtual quilt," the supervisor said. "It almost takes your breath away."

Bosworth said the artwork sends a message of hope and gratitude.

"This project is the culmination of our collective appreciation for our first responders, medical professionals and essential employees who serve as the backbone of our community during these incredibly trying times," she said. "Without them, I don’t know how we would have gotten through this crisis."

Matthew Uttaro, 10, spent two days working on his piece. The fifth-grader, who also attends St. Aidan, drew not just a nurse and a doctor but also a police officer, a firefighter, a teacher and a mom.

When he drew the figures, Uttaro said he thought of his father, Michael, a Nassau County assistant chief fire marshal and a firefighter at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department.

But most of all, he wanted to "show a picture of people helping other people."

Matthew’s art teacher, Carolyn Gustafson, said he and many other students took the project to heart.

"He not only thanked the first responders and essential workers. He made mention of the parents and teachers," Gustafson said. "[The project] was a nice way to get the kids thinking about who was involved and how the community was able to get back and running."

For Syers, seeing the artwork brought back memories of the spring days during the height of the pandemic when she entered her home in Mineola by the back entrance. Her husband, David, had put up a sheet on the back door so she could change her clothes outside.

"We were all scared. We didn’t know where it was going to end," she recalled. "To me, [the artwork] was very symbolic, meaning that we were all in it together. And we are still all in it."

MADE WITH LOVE

  • 1,026 patches of student-made art are spread out on 10 billboards.
  • Participating schoolchildren are in kindergarten through sixth grade.
  • Visitors can view the artwork in North Hempstead Beach Park, Michael J. Tully Park and Martin “Bunky” Reid Park.
  • The installations will be in the parks until July 23.

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