Playground dream comes true for Meadow Vista man killed in Afghanistan

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Tom Stefani didn’t live to see a heartfelt goal come true in a battle-torn corner of Afghanistan. Stefani, who grew up in Meadow Vista, was working in Afghanistan for the U.S. government helping farmers develop agricultural projects when his convoy hit a roadside bomb. The 28-year-old U.S. Forest Service employee was killed in the 2007 explosion. Before his death, Stefani had visited a Ghazni City orphanage that had been so torn apart due to the conflict in the region that it didn’t have a playground, toys or even soccer balls to play with. A city of about 1 million people, Ghazni is located in southeast Afghanistan. In Afghanistan on a nine-month mission as a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service advisor, Stefani had contacted his family and friends back home asking them to work with him on a project to build a new playground at the orphanage. As the plan was just starting to take shape, Stefani was killed in the Oct. 4, 2007 blast. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and members of the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team paid a special visit to the orphanage to dedicate the playground. Equipment had been gathered by Stefani’s family and friends and installed by reconstruction team members. Other attendees at the high-profile dedication included Ghazni Provincial Governor Musa Khan, Poland’s ambassador and the Polish Task Force White Eagle commander. Two years ago, Tom’s parents Steve and Barbara Stefani, were aided by community volunteers in dismantling surplus playground equipment from Placer Hills School and the former site of the Placer County Children’s Receiving Home for shipment to Ghazi City. Coincidentally, Stefani had helped install the equipment at the school while a Boy Scout with Meadow Vista’s Troop 6. The Stefani family worked with the State Department, Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development to send the equipment to Afghanistan, where military personnel installed it at the orphanage. Today, Ghazni is still a province with insurgent activity and roadside bombs. A statement from the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said getting the equipment to the orphanage was complicated and plagued with delays. The equipment had been readied for shipping in mid-2008 and then kept at Travis Air Force Base to be flown out on a space-available basis. The equipment replaces a metal slide with a hole in the middle and little else that Stefani discovered when he visited the orphanage. The orphanage is full-time home to 45 children and another 75 attend for the school day. “It’s something that had to be done,” Barbara Stefani said in a previous interview. “This is what he wanted and it was my job to make sure it got done. That’s what he wanted and it was the least we could do.”