Playgrounds honoring Newtown victims take shape

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2013 at 11:21 am •  Published: June 13, 2013
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Jillian Soto said her big sister's playground will be a fitting tribute to a woman who made children her life, and is more special because it will be built in their hometown, near the home of cousins who are 10, 5 and 3 years old and will be able to enjoy it.

The families of all 26 victims have agreed to be involved in the playgrounds' designs, Lavin said. Some have gotten involved in the construction, lifting beams and fastening bolts. Older siblings, like Jake, are made honorary foremen on the projects.

"It's been very cathartic for us, and the families feel the same way," Lavin said. "More than a few of the families have said they were offered gifts and money and cruises and other things, and not a lot of that made sense to them. This seemed appropriate to them."

Each playground takes about a week to build. They are all handicapped-accessible and have similar swings, slides, balance beams and monkey bars. But each also is being personalized for the child or educator it represents, using their favorite colors and something that made them unique.

Lavin said his group has raised about a third of the $3 million it needs to build all 26 playgrounds. Some of that has come from children, such as a seventh-grader who raised $100 selling wallets and purses she made from duct tape.

"That's what this project is all about," he said. "We do something for these families, they do something for the children, and the children learn from that and pass it forward."

Hockley said of the dozens of memorials and tributes to his son and the other Sandy Hook victims, this one is special. In part, he said it's because Lavin took the time to get their permission and showed a generous heart.

But it's more than that, he said.

Hockley said he and his wife used to take the children to different playgrounds when they moved to Connecticut and explored the area, watching as his sons found joy in a new slide or swing.

"Playgrounds are all about children — children having fun; children meeting each other in a safe place," he said. "Because it's at a school, you've got, guaranteed, 500 children ready and waiting to play on this thing."

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Donations to the project can be made at http://www.thesandygroundproject.org