The sister of a Great Neck South High School graduate who died from a rare form of cancer at 18 has spearheaded a fundraiser to try and create a playground in her honor.
Rozalin Davoodnia Wise is the older sister of Roya Davoodnia, who died in May 2001 after a battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. Rozalin, in an interview, described Roya’s altruism, activeness in her school and community, and overall positive outlook on life.
“We were both very active and incredibly passionate about community service and giving back to the community,” Rozalin said. “We were both very grateful for not having any stressors in our lives. We recognized that and we felt that it was a reason why we felt the need to always be giving back.”
Rozalin, as a big sister, said Roya always looked up to her as a role model, following in her footsteps as president of South High’s Key Club. She said that Roya made “random acts of kindness” into a common phrase throughout South High.
“The night before every Valentine’s Day, she would be up late making dozens of little care packages, ribbons and all, to distribute to everyone from the maintenance crew, to the bus drivers, to cafeteria staff, to the administration, and so on,” Rozalin said on the fundraising page online.
In February 2000, Rozalin said, Roya noticed some pain in her hip and went to the pediatrician’s office. After some evaluation, she received a follow-up examination with an MRI that revealed the cancer diagnosis.
Despite running track and taking various honors classes throughout high school, cancer would prove to be Roya’s biggest test. Rozalin said the journey was filled with ups and downs, with a glimmer of hope in the middle that her sister had beaten the disease.
Within six months of receiving a clean bill of health, she said, the cancer returned and Roya underwent various trials and medications. Rozalin said her sister was accepted into Brandeis University, her top choice. Roya ended up attending Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus so she could continue her treatments while getting an education.
“She would drive herself to get treatments and then drive herself to college, and then back,” Rozalin said. ”She was doing that all the way to the end while still being active in her classes, regardless of how she felt. She was just loved by all the students and teachers wherever she went.”
Twenty years since her sister’s death, Rozalin started a GoFundMe entitled “A Playground for Roya.” The fundraiser, which has raised more than $21,000, aims at installing a variety of playground equipment at Whitney Pond Park in Manhasset.
Rozalin said she has partnered with the Town of North Hempstead and the Manhasset-Port Washington chapter of Kiwanis International to help execute the project. A formal bidding process has not yet occurred through the town, but community input for the design of the park will be included going forward.
Some of the potential installations for the project could include an obstacle course, a merry-go-round, a climbing structure, a zip line and others. Rozalin said she hopes, however it may look, that the future park will be a place that her children and all other children can experience Roya’s legacy.
“I really wanted a happy place to bring my kids to remember my sister and I wanted there to be a place they could go to as their place to be in touch with her spirit,” Rozalin said.
More information on the project and fundraiser can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/royaplayground.