Halle’s wish comes true

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Six-year-old Halle Popowich simply said her new playground is “awesome.”

After only five months of fundraising, the final pieces to the wish of the six-year-old cancer survivor have been installed. On Thursday night, the little girl cut the purple ribbon to her new playground at J.J. Nearing Catholic Elementary School. Within seconds, the grounds were filled with the laughter of playing children, and thankful parents.

“It’s just amazing,” said Halle’s mother Deana Popowich. “It’s been a crazy and wonderful experience for the past five months. The generosity has been overwhelming.”

On June 15, 2012 Halle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare cancer of the bone marrow and blood. Doctors gave her a five to 20 per cent chance of survival without a transplant.

When approached by the Children’s Wish Foundation, Halle asked for new playground equipment for her school. But playground equipment is expensive and the wish foundation had a limited budget. That’s when fundraisers started up across the city to collect the rest of the money – a total of $184,000 in donations with another $60,000 provided by the city of St. Albert Council.

On Thursday, Deana Popowich recounted the turbulent months since Halle’s diagnosis. She said the family was struck by the outpouring of love and support when Halle was sick. Then her need for a bone marrow transplant created public awareness for donations and the bone marrow registry.

Over 600 people across the province responded to the call and a matching donor was found. Today, Halle has been in remission for ten months.

“And now we stand here today,” she said with tears in her eyes. “In front of this amazing playground that was built with love.”

The family took the time to thank all of their supporters: the seven contractors and suppliers who donated time and equipment to the playground, the many volunteers and donors, the Children’s Wish Foundation and the city. Most of all they thanked the Giordano couple who took on managing the fundraiser without even knowing Halle.

In April of this year, Jennifer Doucette-Giordano created a group on Facebook called Halle’s Playground Wish, with the goal of not only adding one piece of equipment to the playground but a couple.

The fundraiser asked Save-On Foods cardholders to donate 1,000 points. The store later matched the donation at a rate of $1 per 1,000 points. The group also set up a link on the J.J. Nearing school website for people to donate directly to the school.

Now completed, the Playworks playground – named Halle’s Playground Wish – includes a rotating merry-go-round with a climbing net, rock-climbing pillars, triple-arch swings, some spinning pieces, and other balancing toys.

On Thursday, Giordano joked that she was ready to get some sleep now. But in a tearful speech to the crowd she added that the fundraiser was a labour of love and Halle brought out the best in the people.

“You have proven that anything is possible,” she said. “ Thank you, Halle.”

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