Community service was the centerfold of 18-year-old Roya Davoodnia’s personality and even in her final days, she continued expressing gratitude before losing her battle to rare cancer Ewing’s Sarcoma in May of 2001.
In the 20 years that followed, her sister Rozalin Davoodnia-Wise of Great Neck hoped to embark on a permanent community service project that would honor her sister’s life.
“Part of that was also because I wanted a place to go to remember her, especially with my children,” Wise said. “I personally don’t really like cemeteries and I certainly don’t think they are a great place for kids… I wanted a happy place to go to remember her, especially with my kids.”
But those years went by fast, with anniversaries of her sister’s passing layered with life events like Wise’s marriage, the birth of her children or caring for a sick relative.
“It just happened that I was doing a volunteer day with my temple at Whitney Pond Park [in Manhasset] and it was the second year I was doing this volunteer day that it suddenly hit me,” Wise said. “I suddenly looked at the ruins of the park playground and I said ‘you know, that’s what I need to do.’”
But Wise did not want to just make any playground, she wanted it to be state of the art and a destination; the type of playground that gets the parents playing with their children through potential zip lines, modern merry-go-rounds, specialty swings and obstacle courses.
She wants the playground to be the best the county and the Town of North Hempstead has ever seen.
Wise took to GoFundMe on June 28 to ask the community for monetary support towards the park. Her fundraising goal is $50,000 and so far, more than $20,000 has been donated from approximately 105 people, some of whom left kind messages about the impact Davoodnia had on them.
“During my teenage years, Roya was one of my best friends,” donor Noah Steiner wrote on the GoFundMe page of his friend from Great Neck South High School. “She dedicated her life to community service and charitable work. She was an active member of our school’s Key Club and environmental organizations. I’ll always remember the many ways that Roya was constantly trying to help people and improve the world around her. In life, she was the closest thing to an angel that I had ever met.”
Other’s recalled Davoodnia’s vibrancy and zest for life. Many say they were grateful to have known her, and that they look forward to bringing their own children to a playground that will honor their friend.
“When you talk about my sister, it sounds like you’re making her more perfect than she was,” Wise said of her sister who was four years younger than her. “But the truth is that my sister truly was the most kind, the most giving person you could possibly meet. Her friends to this day have stories about how incredibly selfless and kind and giving she was.”
Friends remember Davoodnia as a good listener, and the creator of Kindness Week at her high school, which promoted random acts of kindness.
“She loved Oprah Winfrey,” Wise said. “I think that show helped her solidify her philosophies and who she wanted to be.”
Part of her philosophy was positive thinking. Davoodnia kept a gratitude journal that she continued to contribute to even when she was battling cancer.
“She was tested when she got sick,” Wise said. “Reading that gratitude journal, you really see how amazing she was. In the most painful days, she was able to write out multiple reasons for gratitude. She looked up to me a lot growing up, I was also very active in high school in leadership roles. I was truly amazed by her resilience, her ability to truly think positively in the hardest of times.”
Even when Davoodnia would learn that she would have a surgery that would remove a part of her hip, leaving her with a permanent limp, she continued to remain positive, Wise remembered.
“That is rare among teenagers, for sure,” Wise said. “She had lost her hair, she couldn’t walk normally anymore and was she upset? Yes she was. But you did not see that in her. I was personally truly amazed. She did not spend days crying because of the hip. She just went on. She accepted it. She felt there was much worse that could happen. She had seen so many people suffer.”
That kind of spirit has lived on through memories friends and family have of Davoodnia, and perhaps this playground that children will enjoy for decades on.
In addition to the $50,000 Wise is working to raise from the community, the Davoodnia family will be donating a substantial sum to make this project happen.
Until the check will be presented to the Town of North Hempstead, the Manhasset-Port Washington Chapter of Kiwanis International will serve as the beneficiary and protector of the funds.
It also served as the parent organization for the high school Key Club that Davoodnia served as president for.
“A few months ago, the Kiwanis Club of Manhasset-Port Washington learned of the heartbreaking loss of a beautiful girl just on the cusp of starting her life. Roya was both loved and admired by all who knew her in Great Neck and in her high school, Great Neck North,” Kathy Levinson of the Manhasset-Port Washington Chapter of Kiwanis International said. “She was destined to make a positive change in the world.”
After speaking with Wise, Levinson said the local Kiwanis group gave a “resounding yes” to helping with the GoFundMe page in order to create this playground that will honor the late Davoodnia.
“Children love playgrounds,” Wise said. “They never get sick of it, which is amazing. Children will never, ever get sick of a playground, as simple as it seems.”
Children need activity, and playgrounds are where children learn to socialize, Wise added.
“It’s truly a place of joy,” she said. “I knew when it hit me that Roya would truly love this because she loved children and I think it speaks so well to who she was.”