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New Island Park playground's ties to Newtown shooting, Sandy recovery

Caroline Previdi, 6, was among the 20 students

Caroline Previdi, 6, was among the 20 students killed when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Credit: Facebook

A nonprofit group will break ground Friday on an Island Park playground to be dedicated to 6-year-old Caroline Previdi, killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last year.

The new playground -- which will replace an old one damaged by superstorm Sandy -- is part of The Sandy Ground Project, an effort by a group of New Jersey firefighters to build playgrounds in storm-affected areas.

The group plans to build a playground in 26 communities, one for each of the 26 Newtown victims. Caroline's playground will be on Waterford Road in Island Park, near Masone Beach, said William Lavin, president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association and founder of The Sandy Ground Project.

The 2,600-square-foot park will reflect the things Caroline loved, such as the New York Yankees and the color pink, Lavin said.

"Kids will benefit from the life of Caroline, while she watches from above," Lavin said.

Caroline's playground will be the 10th completed under The Sandy Ground Project, and the first in New York, Lavin said. Five others have been completed in New Jersey and four in Connecticut, he said.

The next playground will be completed in Highlands, N.J., and the rest are in the planning stage, Lavin said.

The group chose Island Park for a playground because it was one of the communities hit hardest by Sandy, Lavin said. Sandy closed every business in the 4,600-person village; its library reopened just last month, 10 months after the storm.

James Ruzicka, Island Park's mayor, said the rejuvenation of the playground will help the community, which is still recovering from Sandy.

"The village was blessed by being selected for this playground," Ruzicka said. "Caroline's spirit will be a part of us."

The work will be performed by members of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, local firefighters and other local volunteers, Lavin said. Groundbreaking is Friday at 8 a.m.

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