First of 26 playgrounds honoring Newtown victims being built in Sea Bright

By John Burton | The Two River Times


SEA BRIGHT — Twenty-six is the number. The number of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and now will be the number of new playgrounds to be constructed in honor of the 20 children and six adults killed in December in Newtown, Conn.


The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play is moving forward, raising money and working to build 26 playgrounds in the tristate area.


The first playground is under construction – with hopes for completion by this weekend – on a 2,600-square-foot piece of property located behind the volunteer fire department on Ocean Avenue, overlooking the beach and Atlantic Ocean.


Members of the New Jersey State Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association have experience with a similar project having constructed playgrounds in Mississippi during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.


As the association, like so many other organizations, worked on Sandy recovery projects, the nation was hit with the tragedy at Newtown, leaving many numb. While the association looked at appropriate responses, Lavin said it received an email from a 9-year-old Mississippi girl, Karly Coyne, who recalled the help her community received with its playground and suggested the idea of building 26. “And that’s what we have to do,” Lavin said.


The total project is expected to cost about $2.1 million with each playground averaging between $60,000 and $80,000, and will be paid for through private donations with continued fundraising efforts, Lavin said.


The project kicked off Friday, March 1, with a ceremonial groundbreaking on the Sea Bright beach and the start of construction on the first playground. The ceremony, held at dawn, included Mayor Dina Long digging sand and placing it into brightly colored plastic buckets held by of 26 borough school children. The children then placed the sand at the water’s edge as other children tossed sunflowers into the surf. A Fire Department of New York fireboat floated in the distance, spraying large streams of water high into the air. The ceremony culminated with a brief daytime fireworks display and was followed by volunteers who began the work of building the playground.


The Foundation to Save the Jersey Shore, a Sandy recovery not-for-profit, is working with Lavin’s association to fund and build the Sea Bright playground. The foundation will provide financial assistance and sweat equity for some of the other playgrounds planned for New Jersey, according to Gil Sanchez, the foundation’s communications chairman.


Lavin said the Sea Bright project is relying on the efforts of 26 association volunteers – teachers, police and those from fire departments from around the state – along with foundation volunteers to build the playgrounds.


“This project is wholly supported by the families,” of all the victims, he said. The dedication and ribbon cutting in Sea Bright may possibly be held March 16.


The borough playground will be dedicated to the memory of Newtown teacher Anne Marie Murphy. The next location will be in Union Beach, another community dramatically impacted by Sandy, and will be dedicated to the memory of 6-year-old Jack Pinto, Lavin said.


So far about eight sites have been selected, he said.


“This is about courage and hope,” Lavin said, adding, “Who said you can’t have fireworks in the daytime?”


“There was no way I was going to miss this,” said Jen Diehl, who was on hand with her two young children, joining several hundred people in attendance. Diehl is currently living in Rumson while her Long Branch home is undergoing repairs from Sandy damage. A Save the Jersey Shore member, she believes the project “is the greatest thing I can ever be a part of.”


“This tragedy, these kids, they didn’t die in vain,” said Jen Bane, Atlantic Highlands, who was at the ceremony last Friday. “These parks will make sure of that.”


“This is about people caring,” the mayor said. “We’re really blessed they chose us for the first.”


“We had to be part of this,” added Brian Boms, Save the Jersey Shore’s construction chairman and a member of its fundraising committee. “It’s about families moving forward, it’s a sign of hope.”


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