Tempe Police Officer Builds Game Table and Fosters Friendships for New Student
A Tempe Police Officer spent the holiday season working on an extra special project for a lucky Aguilar Elementary student.
Cruz Zermeno-Salce is a fifth-grade student that started at Aguilar Elementary on December 13, and he uses a wheelchair to get around due to a medical condition. During recess time, he and his new friends have been playing board games for fun.
When Tempe Police Officer Reed Ribotta met Cruz at Aguilar’s quarterly All School Celebration at Kiwanis Park, he got to know more about the games that Cruz likes to play. Cruz shared that they use old plastic crates for their board games. Hearing this sparked an idea for Officer Ribotta.
Over his holiday break, Officer Ribotta used his own money to purchase materials to build a game table for Cruz, customized with several different features and painted all green and black – Cruz’s favorite colors.
“He told me he likes to draw, so I wanted to make sure he could do that,” said Ribotta, pointing to the whiteboard area and the plethora of colored whiteboard markers that were complete with an attached bag to easily store them.
The table also has a checker board with special handmade green and black checkers, and tic-tac-toe. One of the most heartwarming features is the three words that are written on the front of the table: Cruz and Friends.
“My hope for this game table is that Cruz will always feel included. I was happy to learn that he already has good friends here at Aguilar, so I just wanted to make it easier for them to play and be together,” said Officer Ribotta.
Officer Ribotta has been an officer with the Tempe Police Department for 18 years. For the last three years, he has volunteered weekly at Aguilar Elementary. He spends time with students at recess, is always available to assist the staff, and has been a huge support to the school.
“Officer Ribotta has a huge heart, is willing to help out in any way he can, and has selflessly given his time and expertise to assist our school. It is evident that he truly cares about our community,” said Assistant Principal Angela Storey. Storey added that it is wonderful for the students to have a positive role model like Officer Ribotta, someone that they can trust and turn to.
As recess went on, more and more students were gathering around to check out the new table and learn about the games. Right in the heart of the huddle was Cruz, smiling from ear to ear as he was meeting new friends and playing games that he loves.
“I am excited to play games with my friends,” said Cruz. “Especially checkers, my favorite game.”
“This is so much nicer than the old crates we were playing on before. Now I’m even more excited to come play these games with my friends!” exclaimed Cruz’s friend, Fifth-Grader Ethan Margaron.
Officer Ribotta shared that he hopes that Cruz will be able to take the table with him to whichever school he goes to after Aguilar Elementary. Thank you Officer Ribotta for this act of kindness, and for believing that relationships matter for our students!