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Playground honors Queens girl’s memory

A car accident last year cut short Ekaterina Tsiboukis’ time with the friends she was starting to make at the William Spyropoulos Greek-American School of St. Nicholas in Flushing, but the 6-year-old’s legacy will last a lifetime.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony Saturday of the school’s playground that was named in honor of the girl, who was known as “Katerina,” her mother, Effie Nicolopoulos, held back tears as she remembered one of her daughter’s last wishes before she died.

The girl had always wanted a full playground for her and her friends at the school, and after the accident the Greek community came together to make her wish come true.

“That’s what we are doing: paying it forward,” said her mother. The family lives in Bayside.

Dozens of members of the church and school, at 43-09 196th St., gathered as the playground was blessed and opened for the young students who attend the institution. The blue and red slides, swings and ladders will go a long way for the young learners, according to Nicolopoulos.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “Katerina symbolizes living life to the fullest.”

Katerina, her 4-year-old sister Christina and her maternal grandparents were involved in a car accident in Greece July 12, 2009. Christina, who is currently attending the school, was the only survivor.

The girl had just finished the first-grade at the school prior to her death, which shocked and saddened everyone who knew her, according to her mother. Katerina was an active girl, partaking in dance and karate classes and even vowing to skydive on her 18th birthday, so Nicolopoulos said it was no surprise when she kept asking for a playground at her school.

During her funeral, the girl’s father, Teddy Tsiboukis, vowed to his wife that he would fulfill her request.

“It was her dream to have a playground,” he said. “She only wanted to have fun.”

Members of the church agreed and worked with the family to secure the funding and construct the equipment as fast as they could.

The Rev. Paul Palesty, who blessed the playground with holy water, remarked how the opening of the playground fit in with the anniversary of Sept. 11. The Greek Orthodox priest said the day is used to memorialize the heroes who gave their lives and on that day they remembered the 6-year-old’s positive contributions to the community as well.

“Sept. 11 here is always going to be a day of remembrance,” he said of the playground.

Aghi Balta, the consulate general of Greece, also paid a visit to the ceremony and said that the new playground showed that good things can come out of unfortunate events.

“This tragedy has been morphed by the love Katerina gave to us,” she said.

The slides and fun walls are not the only things the girl’s family created to honor her life. They have set up a scholarship fund for students across the tri-state area and already have given $4,000 to needy youngsters.

A charity 5K run is also scheduled for the spring.

“Live your dreams every day and pass it on to others,” Nicolopoulos said.

For more information on the Katerina Tsiboukis scholarship, log on to katerinatsiboukis.org.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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