New Jersey Firefighters Build Playground For Bay St. Louis Students

Students at North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis will soon have a new playground, thanks to firefighters from New Jersey.

Storm weary students at North Bay Elementary School watched with excitement Monday as the firefighters began to put together the pieces of a new playground.

"It's nice of them to come all the way from New Jersey to help build a playground for us," third grade student Tyler Smith said.

"I think they're wonderful, because it takes a really nice person to do all this," fellow third grader Elese Dorsey said.

For these firefighters, building this playground is a labor of love. The relationship between the New Jersey firemen and North Bay Elementary School began five years ago, shortly after the 9/11 disaster. Back then, third grade teacher Jackie Wintruba asked her class to write letters to the Elizabeth Township Fire Department.

"Those letters bolstered the spirits of the firefighters that were going through a very difficult time," Bill Lavin, President of the New Jersey Firemen's Benevolent Association said. "We had lost 343 of our brother firefighters across the river in New York."

"We started to get depressed, and that when those letters meant the most to us. Hurricane Katrina came along and we're here to pay back that support," Louis Kelly, a member of the New Jersey Benevolent Association, said.

Firefighters raised more than $100,000 at benefits and even enlisted the help of celebrities like Joe Piscapo and singer Pheobe Snow. When the job is done, the children will have a rock wall, swings and several interactive learning stations to enjoy. They'll also have one big reminder of their firefighter friends - a shiny red fire truck will be part of the playground.

Shortly after Katrina, the Elizabeth New Jersey Fire Department sent $1,000 to each of their student pen pals. They also donated $13,000 to the school to rebuild its Parents Center.

by Al Showers