Web Exclusive - February 2012
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Memories & Dreams

A Playground Comes to Tucson

A little more than a year has passed since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head as she spoke with constituents. Also in attendance at the meeting was 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, who was shot and killed as she stood in line to meet Giffords.

In the aftermath of the shooting, which wounded X and killed X, PlayPower LT Farmington Inc., manufacturer of the Little Tikes Commercial brand of playground equipment, joined forces with the community to help realize Christina's dream.

Christina was a third grader at Mesa Verde Elementary School, and had just been elected to student council before her tragic death. One of her goals was to rebuild her elementary school's old playground. She also was involved in the local charitable organization Kids Helping Kids.

After the shooting, some local talk radio hosts were discussing what might be done to memorialize Christina. An Allstate employee, Melinda Wilson, who was listening to the show, decided to get Allstate on board.

The Mesa Verde Elementary School playground was about 35 years old. It was worn out and not up to current safety standards, so it was razed and replaced with brand-new equipment, built with children's safety in mind.

Representatives from Recreation Design Concepts, Tucson's area representative for Little Tikes Commercial, met with Christina's teacher, classmates and principal, Foster Hepler, to come up with a design. Using catalogs and smartboards to view the Web site, the children voted on the components they wanted to include. An "Overhead Event," for building upper body strength, and a "Challenging Climber," for agility, were selected and installed. Children must use this climber to reach the top of the playground and to go down an exciting slide. There's also a "Zipper Bridge fun path", "Fun Wheels" and a sitting disc, which allows kids to spin as fast as they can, while safely building strength and balance.

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

Ground was broken in early August before school opened, and construction took about a month to complete. First, the old playground equipment was removed, and the land was bulldozed to be level. The area was closed off during construction, so kids would excitedly gather around the fence daily to see what was done. The third grade class enjoyed a sneak preview, before the actual opening. The children were amazed and thrilled to see their visions come to reality.

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

The opening dedication ceremony was in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 24, with the third grade class and much of the school's students and staff in attendance. Principal Hepler wanted the playground to be a memorial to Christina and all children who have suffered catastrophic events in their lives. At one point, when the panel with the butterfly art was presented, a box of butterflies was released above the crowd and the principal said words to this effect: "As the butterfly lands on you, make a wish and it will be carried to Heaven."