Seeing a paucity in available spaces for Scout meetings, Danika Riccio, along with fellow 1126 Girl Scout troop members Grace Bernhold and Alyssa Martel, set out to renovate the basement of the Westminster United Presbyterian Church on Udall Road in West Islip, as part of their Silver Award.
“The basement was just nasty,” said Riccio, who made her confirmation in the church in 2019. “Over the years, people had just left stuff in the basement and there was a water problem where one of the gutters was leaking.”
The young ladies took on the task of emptying the basement, scraping the walls and falls, and gathering community members to donate building supplies to the cause.
“We had some bake sales in the beginnings,” said Riccio, “but the damage and renovation needed was extensive, so we knew we’d need the help of businesses in the community.”
Albeit a middle-schooler, Riccio reached out and kept calling local businesses like a seasoned PR rep, and is estimated to have gathered over $20,000 worth of materials and labor for the basement renovation.
The girls opted to paint the walls a bright white, but Riccio saw the opportunity for artwork to be incorporated into the renovated space and called on local muralist, Tess Parker, from East Islip, who is responsible for popular community murals in Oakdale and West Sayville, to paint an expansive wall in the basement.
Given the original darkness of the room, the girls nicknamed the basement the “cave” and incorporated that into their vision for the mural by Parker.
“We even got to help Tess paint the mural, which was really awesome,” said Riccio.
“As an active member of the community, it was my absolute pleasure to help with this incredible young woman’s project. Empowered women empower women, and Danika’s relentless efforts served as my muse,” said Parker, adding, “Two of them worked tirelessly alongside me, and within the volunteered work of many before me, to transform a once dingy basement into a work of art. The intrinsic reward of giving back to our community was payment for both of us, which I feel bonded us, even in our short time on this project.”