A Port Washington teenager led the charge with a local nonprofit to promote National Child Abuse Prevention Month in North Hempstead parks last week, and to commemorate what would have been the seventh birthday of a Manhasset girl.
Shayna Blumenfeld, an eighth-grade student at Weber Middle School and youth ambassador for the child safety advocacy group Kyra’s Champions, led the group in planting 744 blue pinwheels at the Mary Jane Davies Green in Manhasset and Blumenfeld Family Park in Port Washington. The idea combines the blue ribbon that represented child abuse with the modern Pinwheels for Prevention campaign headed by Prevent Child Abuse America.
Blumenfeld became involved with the organization when she heard Kyra’s Champions founder Jacqueline Franchetti of Manhasset speak last year, spurred on by an interest in politics.
“We connected over the summer,” Blumenfeld said. “I got to hear her talk at Zoom meetings and I thought she was really, really incredible.”
Franchetti then recruited Blumenfeld to co-chair the event. As part of her role, Blumenfeld attended planning meetings with the Town of North Hempstead, assembled and sent packets of pinwheels across the state, and even staked out the parks ahead of time.
Pinwheels were planted on Friday, with a setup at Blumenfeld Park in the morning and at the Davies Green in the afternoon. Blumenfeld recruited neighbors, friends, community members and classmates on their final day of spring break to take hourly shifts installing the pinwheels at each park.
“This is an event for kids by kids, and I really wanted it that way,” Franchetti said in a phone interview. “It was very important to me that we did it that way. It’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this should be an event with heavy involvement from children.”
In the summer of 2016, Franchetti’s daughter Kyra was killed by her father at his home in Fairfax, Virginia, while on an unsupervised, court-sanctioned visit. The sleeping 2-year-old was shot twice in the back before her father set the house on fire and shot himself to death.
Franchetti, who had experienced physical and verbal abuse from Kyra’s father and left him when she became pregnant, had been embroiled in a yearslong custody dispute with him at the time in Nassau County’s Family Court system, and founded Kyra’s Champions to pursue legislation and ensure that what happened to Kyra wouldn’t happen to any other child.
Since then, Franchetti has obtained the passage of a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives which calls for hearings on the practices of Family Courts, says that evidence of abuse can only be submitted by an approved fee-paid professional and that states should have clear standards for the professionals, among other things; and testified before the New York State Assembly, with a bill named for Kyra introduced in the chamber in February.
The number of pinwheels placed at each park, 744, not only represent Kyra and the other 18 children in New York state who have been murdered by their father or mother while going through a child custody case, divorce or separation, but 725 children whose deaths are said to have been hidden by Child Protective Services. Also meaningful were the locations, with Kyra having frequently played at Blumenfeld Park and the Davies Green with her mother.
In addition to the plantings in parks, Kyra’s Champions offered bundle of seven pinwheels for $28 for community members to place around their homes during April in support of child abuse prevention.
Over 150 of these bundles were sold, Blumenfeld said, including to public figures like state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven); North Hempstead council members Mariann Dalimonte (D-Port Washington) and Veronica Lurvey (D-Great Neck); and Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Michael Hynes, among others.
Local businesses like Herb & Olive Marketa, Bach 2 Rock, Blue Moon Martial Arts, Asset Based Consulting and Port Jefferson-based Sea Creations, plus public institutions like Weber Middle School and the Manhasset Public Library, also displayed the pinwheels.
Additional donation of services came from Printstation NY in New Hyde Park, which created signs for each park, and from local photographers Carin Forman, Kim-Ly Moynihan, Natalie Labib and Susan Auriemma, with Auriemma taking drone videos of the Manhasset display.
The response has been overwhelming, Franchetti says.
“You drive around town and you see the pinwheels on people’s lawns,” Franchetti said. “It’s absolutely incredible to see how involved the community has gotten, and how much support we have from the community, which I’m forever thankful for.”
“Shayna’s running the show, and I’m incredibly thankful for her involvement,” Franchetti added. “She has been absolutely fantastic. It has been an incredible partnership, and the teamwork has been absolutely outstanding.”
With Blumenfeld leading the charge, Franchetti chose not to attend the event due to its proximity to Kyra’s birthday. Nevertheless, she said the beauty of the event cannot be overstated.
“This was a beautiful, amazing way to honor and celebrate her and her legacy,” Franchetti said. “Kyra’s legacy will only continue because of the community and their involvement and their support. And I’m forever thankful for that.”
The blue pinwheel displays in Blumenfeld Park and the Mary Jane Davies Green will remain up until Saturday.