2017-05-18 / News

Shores girl gets a little luck of the Irish

BY RYAN GIBBS


Saoirse Purnell, 4, plays Tuesday in her Irish-inspired playhouse, which was delivered Monday to her family’s home on Frigate Street. The gift was part of Bryant University’s Project Playhouse. “She was so delighted with it,” said her mom, Marcella Purnell. “She was trying to set up tea parties.” Saoirse Purnell, 4, plays Tuesday in her Irish-inspired playhouse, which was delivered Monday to her family’s home on Frigate Street. The gift was part of Bryant University’s Project Playhouse. “She was so delighted with it,” said her mom, Marcella Purnell. “She was trying to set up tea parties.” Three weeks ago, a 4-yearold girl was told she was visiting Bryant University to meet student-athletes. When she arrived on the Smithfield campus, however, there were no sluggers, centers, setters or sailors.

But there was an even bigger surprise waiting for her.

Saoirse Purnell, who lives with her parents on Frigate Street, has a rare kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor. Because of that life-threatening disease, she was one of five Rhode Island children to be gifted a spanking-new playhouse, built specifically to her taste. Wish Kids, a fledgling charity founded by former employees of A Wish Come True, selected the young recipients.


PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN The April 29 ceremony was the culmination of Project Playhouse, a yearlong endeavor that pits Wish Kids with the Bryant Management Association, a first-year club of students. Although the celebration was moved indoors because of rain, Saoirse and her four cohorts visited their new toys remotely via GoPro camera. Sitting beside her mother, a smiling Saoirse watched the TV screen as her playhouse was unveiled.

“She was holding onto me and was extremely excited,” Marcella Purnell said. “She couldn’t believe what was going on.”

At the end of the ceremony, the curtains were lifted and Saoirse was able to see her Irishinspired adobe sitting in the courtyard. “The sunshine was definitely inside the room,” said Erica Batalha, vice president of the Bryant Management Association.

Shortly thereafter, the rain subsided and the children were allowed to get up close and personal.

Each of the playhouses have a different theme, ranging from Legos to the Pawtucket Red Sox. Saoirse’s, which resembles a traditional Irish cottage, was designed and built at the Warwick Area Career & Technical Center. Purnell, who hails from Ireland, said her daughter’s playhouse reflects that ancestry.

“It’s a symbolism from where I’m from,” she said.

Along with the Celtic-style exterior, the inside is decorated with fairies and flowers, which Saoirse loves. “We made it like a mystical fairy garden getaway,”

Batalha said.

Construction was financed by technical schools statewide and done by their students. The interiors were sponsored by Target, which was supplemented by a $2,600 campaign on the Go- FundMe website. According to Purnell, her daughter was overwhelmed when she first stepped foot inside the cottage.

“She was so delighted with it,” Purnell said. “She was trying to set up tea parties.”

According to Batalha, Project Playhouse was introduced in winter 2015 as a classroom project for a Bryant management course. Those founding students secured the partnership with Wish Kids and delivered the first slate of playhouses in spring 2016.

When this academic year began, a group of management majors formed the Bryant Management Association because they didn’t want Project Playhouse to die. This was the program’s encore season and its first under the auspices of the club.

“It’s really great to see the smiles we’re able to put on these kids’ faces,” Batalha said. “A lot of their days are spent in and out of the hospital and doctors’ appointments. We’re able to give them a nice day that they’re definitely going to remember for a long time. It’s been a really special thing to be a part of.”

Purnell said she’s grateful for her daughter’s playhouse. In particular, she was overwhelmed by the collaborative effort between the students and organizations that made it happen.

“After the year or so that we’ve had, and what Saoirse has had, it’s such a symbol of people coming together and trying to make the world a little bit better,” she said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

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