Early next month, Hartford will become the eighth Connecticut community to welcome a playground commemorating one of the children and educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14, 2012. The Hartford playground, at Elizabeth Park, will commemorate Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, who was 6 years old. The official opening of the playground on Friday, April 4 will also commemorate her birthday.
New Jersey-based The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play has been building the playground on the East Lawn of Elizabeth Park along the Hartford-West Hartford town line, with the help of volunteers from throughout the region.
The Sandy Ground Project was founded in the wake of the Newtown shootings and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the month before. The idea was inspired by three playgrounds the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the organization behind the project, had built in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. The New Jersey firefighters plan to build 26 playgrounds across the tri-state area, each one dedicated to the memory of a Sandy Hook student or educator lost on that day.
Ana Grace’s parents, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez, both graduated from the University of Hartford, and at a brief ceremony marking the beginning of construction on a cold wintery day just a few weeks ago, they recalled good times at Elizabeth Park.
“I used to play with Ana and Isaiah right here, in this park, when they were little,” Marquez said. “We’re so incredibly grateful to this community, to embrace this here where it means so much to us.” Ana Grace’s brother, Isaiah, played piano at the ceremony, and was joined by a chorus of children, in tribute to his sister. (watch video)
Friends and family from Hartford, Newtown, New York, New Jersey and Winnipeg, Canada, where the Marquez-Greene family lived prior to moving to Newtown, were on hand to lend a hand at the start of construction, at the corner of Elizabeth Ave. and Whitney St. in the Park. The opening ceremony on April 4 begins at 6 PM.
The playground at Elizabeth Park is the 18th constructed to date in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as part of the Where Angels Play project. Among the playgrounds located in Connecticut are those in memory of James Mattioli in Milford, Josephine Gay in Bridgeport, Dylan Hockley in Westport, Allison Wyatt in Norwalk, Emilie Parker in New London, Jessica Rekos in Fairfield, and Victoria Soto in Stratford.
The Marquez-Greene family selected Elizabeth Park as the site for the playground honoring their daughter’s memory, and it’s playscapes feature the vibrant purple color that was her favorite.
In December, the family held “Love Wins: A Conference on Promoting Love, Connection and Community for Every Child & Family” at the University of Hartford. It was the inaugural event of the Center for Community and Connection, a transformative initiative of the Ana Grace Project of the Klingberg Family Centers, attended by more than 500 people. Participants in the December 2 symposium represented the fields of medicine, nursing, education, mentoring, early childhood, mental health, foster care, and the faith community, as well as state and local government.