Dual Tragedies Inspire Sandy Ground Playground Project
Ground was broken on the first of 26 planned playgrounds in Sea Bright Friday.
Inspiration came in the way of a message delivered by a 9-year-old girl from a small town in Mississippi.
New Jersey's coastal communities remained devastated following Hurricane Sandy. Even then, more than a month after the storm hit, rebuilding seemed like an impossible task. In December, a gunman opened fire in a school in Newtown, Conn. killing 26 people, 20 of them children.
Demoralized. That’s how Bill Lavin, president of the New Jersey Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association, said he felt. It’s how many in the nation felt.
Karli Coyne, from Waveland, Miss., a town destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, sent a letter to Lavin and other firefighter volunteers and thanked them for building the playground in her town where she had spent the last three years playing. It wasn’t just the gift of the playground she said was thankful for, but that fact that they cared so much.
It was then that Lavin and his team of volunteers knew what to do.
Volunteers from the Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play broke ground in Sea Bright at dawn Friday morning on the first of 26 planned playgrounds that will be scattered throughout New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
The playgrounds will signal recovery in Sandy-ravaged towns and honor those who lost their lives in the Newtown shooting, Lavin said, while offering children a safe place to play.
The entire project is expected to cost about $2.1 million. Already, Sandy Ground has raised enough money through private donations to fund eight of the playgrounds, though the group is looking for more financial assistance to help finish the job. Each playground takes about a week to assemble after which the volunteers move on to the next location.
In New Jersey, Sandy Ground has identified four locations so far. In addition to Sea Bright, Where Angels Play playgrounds are planned for Ocean City, Union Beach, and Normandy Beach.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, children carried one of 26 buckets filled with sand, each one representing a victim of the Newtown shooting, to the shore line and poured it into the encroaching tide. Like the sand, which will be carried by the ocean water, Lavin hopes the message of hope and recovery promised by the Sandy Ground is spread far and wide.
Each park will be named for a Newtown victim. Sea Bright’s playground is being named in honor of Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who died protecting a student from 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza.
Lavin said before setting out on the playground project he reached out to the families of the Newtown victims for approval. Every face-to-face meeting he’s had has been a positive one, he said, with each one ending with support for the dedicated playgrounds.
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long expressed gratitude to the volunteers behind the project as well as sympathy to the family of Murphy. The seaside playground, she said, will forever remain a symbol of hope.