Playgrounds For Newtown Victims Built In Sandy-Struck Towns08:58
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A playground dedicated to Newtown victim Victoria Soto is pictured under construction in June 2013, in Stratford, Conn. (The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play/Facebook)
A playground dedicated to Newtown victim Victoria Soto is pictured under construction in June 2013, in Stratford, Conn. (The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play/Facebook)

New Jersey firefighter Capt. Bill Lavin is building 26 playgrounds for each of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in communities that were hit hard by superstorm Sandy last year.

It's part of his project called The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play. Two of the playgrounds are being built in New Jersey this week.

The playgrounds reflect the personalities of the victims, and Lavin says the young siblings of the first graders killed at the school last year are made special "foremen" on the day of playground construction, to help them heal.

Carlos Soto had one playground built near his home in honor of his daughter Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed at the school in Newtown, Conn. He says it's healing to spend time there.

Interview Highlights

Capt. Bill Lavin on superstorm Sandy and Newtown

"The entire state was devastated by the storm, and just as we were getting our feet back under us, the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut, occurred and everything stalled — all our efforts stalled — and we really started to question as to what it was all about."

Carlos Soto on the playground dedicated to his daughter

"For me it's been almost like therapy, because doing these playgrounds, I enjoy it, and I don't have to sit at home just thinking about it. Now I could do something for my daughter. You know, she's no longer with me, but she always will be in my heart. When we're building, she's always looking down at us with her students, seeing that something ugly happened, something beautiful is coming out of it."

Capt. Bill Levin on the reaction to the playgrounds

"The Union Beach build, for example, we started to build — and that's a blue collar community devastated by the storm — we had residents come up to us and say, 'You know, I didn't know whether I would rebuild my home, I didn't know whether I was just going to leave,' and they said, 'I saw this beautiful playground coming out of the ground and it gave me hope that this town and this community is going to recover.' So in a very real way, children and teachers who left us far too soon are going to be remembered and celebrated for generations."

Letter from Avielle Richman's parents to Capt. Bill Lavin

Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman, parents of 6-year-old Newtown victim Avielle Richman, sent this letter to Capt. Bill Lavin:

It took us weeks before we read William Lavin’s letter to us. There was too much grief to bear. Even reading letters of condolence was impossible.

When we had the strength, we started to read the letters we received from around the nation and world. Among the many letters was one in particular, from William Lavin and the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Foundation, Inc. This letter sang to our spirits. A generous act of kindness was being offered, an offer that would benefit so very many children – a gift to a community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, a gift for children, a playground in the honor of our daughter, Avielle, was being offered.

Children are the foundation of our country, our country’s FUTURE. Children need safe, clean, and beautiful outdoor spaces in which to climb, run, jump, laugh, and explore. My husband and I thank you Mr. Lavin and the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Foundation, Inc. for creating these spaces so important to the community.

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.

Guests

  • Capt. Bill Lavin, New Jersey firefighter and founder of The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play.
  • Carlos Soto, father of Newtown shooting victim Victoria Soto.

This segment aired on October 23, 2013.

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