Penny by penny, the payoff is a playground

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by Keila Torres
Connecticut Post

May 22, 2009

BRIDGEPORT — As Dunbar School youngsters chanted, "Cut it! Cut it!" fellow students representing each class used colorful scissors Thursday to cut the ribbon -- made of paper handprints cut out by the school's kindergartners through second graders -- for their brand-new playground.

The playspace, with three slides, six swings and a large roped jungle gym, was made possible through the collection of more 2 million pennies.

"I think it's fun and exciting. We got a new playground!" exclaimed Jatoria Taylor, 9, a third-grader who was so excited she couldn't stop jumping.

Her classmate, Tyron Heard, 11, said he couldn't wait to try out the school's first-ever swing set. "I do backflips off the swings," he said.

The playground unveiling was the result of a fundraising effort led by Weston couple Greg and Jennifer Toli, who had volunteered to do a philanthropic project in the city, and the East End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone to raise $80,000 to replace the school's shabby, rundown play area.

About one-quarter of the funds -- $20,000, or 2 million pennies -- was raised through "Project Playground," a campaign started last September that urged students, parents, community groups, city officials and others to collect pennies for the cause.

"We are so impressed with this school and all the hard work you guys went through to collect pennies to have a playground," said Jennifer Toli.

Richard Bieder, of the law firm Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, was so impressed that he came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony with two wheelbarrows holding $500 in pennies, the last installment of a $5,000 donation the law firm made to the playground project.

"This shows the power of the penny. It also shows the power of one. It's how one person can make a difference in the world. When you put all those ones together it added up to a playground," Bieder told the children.

East End Community Council President Ted Meekins urged the students and community to continue raising money to install a basketball court and baseball diamond at the school.

For now, though, the children were excited about finally having a chance to try out the new playground.

"They've been dying to get in. I didn't let them in until the ceremony took place," said Dunbar Principal Charmaine Worthy.

The kindergartners were the first to get a crack at it. "I think it's fun," said Amiah Negron, 5, as she swung higher and higher on the swing set.