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Healing through the Power of Play

Jessica Rekos' Park, Penfield Beach, Fairfield, Conn. --
Playing is a known de-stressor and has been proven to strengthen the immune system, create positive psychological benefits and increase vitality in both children and adults.

When public acrimony in the U.S. reaches the irrational depths it has of late, we appear as an intractably divided people. That all but disappears when disasters and tragedies afflict our nation as we agonize with and mourn for the victims; setting aside our differences to reach out and help those in distress.

This spirit of hope, determination and recovery is once again being revealed as friends and strangers join forces to help the healing process of the survivors of two of our most recent national heartbreaks, which are linked together by proximity of locations and dates of occurrence, and in a odd coincidence, the name that defines each one: but will now be linked in a more encouraging way.

The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play is an endeavor to build playgrounds along the coasts of New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut in communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy, the most destructive hurricane to hit the East Coast in 50 years. The number of playgrounds, 26, was chosen to honor the children and teachers who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

The project is a combined effort of the New Jersey Firefighters' Mutual Benevolence Association, Toni Giordano of Giordano Contracting, LLC and hundreds of other volunteers. New Jersey firefighter, Capt. Bill Lavin, is the founder of the project. The firefighters in the NJFMBA are spearheading it. Giordano is planning and building all 26 playgrounds.

Each playground will not only bear the name of one of the children or teachers from Newtown, it will also reflect their personalities and interests. To date, there are 10 playgrounds across the three states, all built by volunteers with donated equipment.

Among the volunteers have been parents, families and friends of the Sandy Hook victims.

"We heal a little bit more with each playground," says Rebecca Kowalski, a volunteer on a number of installations and the mother of 7-year-old, Chase Kowalski. "The teams think that we give to them but they really have been giving back to us more than they'll ever know."

Of her son's memory, she adds, "We're not going to let him be known as a victim. We're going to let his name be known as triumphing over tragedy."

Lavin calls this project, "A tribute to the 26 beautiful lives while providing a wonderful place for children to play and just be children - a gift to our children in honor of all children who leave us far too early - blessed by families and communities who stand determined to begin anew and vow to make this world a better place."

This week, construction is planned for playgrounds at Veterans Park in Highlands, N.J., to honor Daniel Barden, 7, and in Belmar, N.J., to honor Avielle Richman, 6.

Avielle's parents, Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman write, "When you and your children are on the playground dedicated to Avielle, look for fairies and their homes, laugh openly, climb a tree, play tag, blow dandelion seeds to the wind, hop on one leg for one full minute, swing higher than the clouds, fly a kite, hide behind a boulder, eat apples and blueberries, be a monkey on the bars, and see the beautiful polka dots, stripes, and squiggles that make up the landscape of a child's heart."

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June 27, 2019, 2:08 am PDT

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