It seems tragedy gives birth to some of the most amazing things. The New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, after the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, was inspired to make a memorial to each child. Called the Sandy Ground 26 program it was a simple but brilliant idea. Make 26 playgrounds in 26 communities hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, each play ground dedicated as a memorial to one of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy . For Monmouth County they partnered with the RAINE foundation (an organization that itself was born out of the September 11th tragedy to support the affected children of the area) to build a playground in Union Beach.
Yesterday as I drove thru Union Beach, I literally slammed on my breaks at the sight of the park. I had been turned around due to road blockages for demolitions, and found myself in areas I didn’t recognize due to the overwhelming number of empty lots and houses in various states of construction or disrepair. I was happy to find myself on the road by the water and thought I was back on track when out of the blue, I see this amazing park, and remember the news story. My son says “that looks like a nice park. Can we play in it?” I immediately pull into the parking lot and we unloaded.
The park was dedicated to Jack Pinto, a little boy who adored the NY Giants. The RAINE foundation made sure to painstakenly incorporate parts of Jack. The play structure is a Giants blue with a Pinto 80 jersey (he was buried in his Victor Cruz #80 jersey). The structure is amazing, designed for kids 2-12, with 5 slides of different heights, climbing areas of various levels, and a ramp allowing easy access for all (even moms who get called to come for a rescue).
There was also a lovely swing set, since that was one of Jacks favorite actives. Both my children were able to enjoy.
The highlight had to be the memorial to Jack. The parents provided the foundation with a handprint that Jack had made for a Thanksgiving project. That handprint was etched in stone, and surrounded by blue and red (Giants colors again) handprints of the children of Union Beach. My children compared their hand prints to those painted.
The park is by the water, and by the street hardest hit by the storm. Evidence is overwhelming. Across the street we watched foundation being laid in a new home. Yet right next to the park was a house that has yet to be touched, the siding still gone and ruined items piled in the back. But the park is a bright spot in this hard hit town, a beautiful symbol of hope and memory. A sign the tragedy happens but we can and will overcome.