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Tucson Playground Memorialized

By Kyle Cavaness, LASN

Mesa Verde Elementary School students and staff selected the new playground equipment. They chose the "Overhead Event," "Challenging Climber," "Zipper Bridge Fun Path," "Fun Wheels" and a "Spinfinity(R) Sitting Disc."
Photos: Little Tikes Commercial



Christina Taylor-Green, nine years old, was a third-grader at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona. She had just been elected to the student council.

On the morning of January 8, 2011, Christina was in line outside the local Safeway for a meet-and-greet with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She was there to support Mesa Verde's efforts to rebuild their 35-year-old playground. Christina also worked with a local charitable organization, Kids Helping Kids, and was already changing lives and becoming a leader in her community. In short, she was a child any parent would be extremely proud of.

But Christina's future ended in that parking lot at 10:11 a.m. in a hail of bullets. Giffords was the shooter's target. Her extraordinary recovery from a gunshot to the head is well known, but five people died with Christina that day, and 12 others were injured.

The Littlehands Playground not only memorializes nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, it gives back to the community, just as Christina did through her local charity, Kids Helping Kids.

Following the shooting, Tucson talk radio hosts Johnjay and Rich considered what could be done to memorialize Christina. Allstate employee Melinda Wilson heard the show and got Allstate involved in constructing a new playground at Mesa Verde Elementary, completing the project that brought Christina to meet Giffords that January day.

Recreation Design Concepts, a Tucson area representative for Little Tikes Commercial, met with Christina's teacher, classmates and principal Foster Hepler to create a design. Using Little Tikes Commercial catalogs and smartboards to view the website, the children voted on the components they wanted to include.

Construction began in early August and took about a month to complete. First, the old playground equipment was removed, and the land leveled with a bulldozer. Since the area was closed off during the build, excited kids would gather around the fence to see the daily progress. The third grade class enjoyed a sneak preview before the opening, and was amazed and thrilled to see their visions come to reality.

The playground is a project of the Christina Taylor-Green Memorial Foundation, established by Christina's mother, Roxanna Green. It was financed by a $140,000 gift from the Allstate Foundation, plus donations from other organizations.

Little Tikes Commercial broke ground in early August before school started. Although the area was closed during construction, kids would gather around the fence to watch the evolution of their new playground.

The design incorporates two special panels that relate specifically to Christina. Her classmates understand and recognize their special meaning. Since Christina was a fan of baseball, one panel features a baseball diamond with a bat, ball and glove. The other panel features one of the last pieces of art Christina drew -- a butterfly. Recreation Design Concepts was able to take the exact design and colors from her drawing and integrate it into the panel.

The playground project was a "community build," with many components put into place on Saturday, September 17th. Parents and the school community worked the morning shift, and Allstate staff, bussed in from Phoenix to Tucson, worked the afternoon shift. "One of the most moving events occurred when many of the firefighters that were first responders on the day of the shootings showed up to help," said Mark Chittock, national sales director for Little Tikes Commercial.

The playground was dedicated Saturday, September 24th, with the third-grade class and many students and Mesa Verde staff in attendance. "Our playground components are designed to allow children to explore their imaginations and play safely," said Dean Swingle, Recreation Design Concepts' representative in Tucson, who managed the project locally. "This project helps everyone heal--the children, the Green family, the school and the Tucson community."


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February 17, 2020, 1:33 pm PDT

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