BELMAR – Avielle Richman’s life was cut short at the young age of 6. Not by an accident or a disease, but by a bullet from the gun of a heartless shooter.
Richman, who was called Avie by her family, was one of the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last December.
Her parents, Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman, were at Belmar Elementary School on Friday. Not to mourn the loss of their beautiful daughter, but rather to celebrate her life with the opening of a new playground memorializing her.
Sure, they periodically had tears in their eyes – especially as local school children sang “Fireflies” by Owl City as a tribute to Avielle’s love for fireflies – but they also had glowing smiles on their faces.
“It’s inspiration and joy,” Hensel said of her emotions during the event. “It’s true that she didn’t get to do a lot of the things other children will. But all of you who play here will take a little piece of her with you and thank you for that.”
The playground is the twelfth of 26 playgrounds being constructed in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged communities and in Newtown as part of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association’s Sandy Ground 26, Where Angels Play Project.
William Lavin, a past president of the NJ FMBA, said the playground was not a gift to the Newtown families, but rather a gift from the families and their children to the communities where the playgrounds will go. Because the families are allowing their children’s memories, hopes and dreams to be shared with future generations of children.
And even tough Avielle did not have an opportunity to experience much of what life has to offer, Lavin said in many ways she accomplished more than most people ever will.
“We could live to be 100 years old and never accomplish the things Avielle has,” he said. “She will lift up our spirits as children play in her name on this playground for years to come.”
Similar to the other playgrounds that were built as part of the project, Avielle’s playground incorporated some of her favorite things, including a piano, artwork and, of course, fireflies.
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty said his Hurricane Sandy-ravaged borough could learn a lot from the “strength and spirit” that the Newtown families have shown in the past year.
“What we suffered as a town pales in comparison to what they endured,” he said.
Doherty then turned his attention to the children in attendance who he said were “not unlike” the children the playgrounds are memorializing.
“We are blessed to have you, we are lucky to have you,” he said. “And I hope you have a great time playing here.”
After all the speeches and ceremonial presentations, Hensel told the youngsters in attendance that Avielle would be doing the same thing they were – anxiously fidgeting, waiting for the ceremony to end and the playing to begin, and thinking: “Do adults ever stop talking?”
“Let’s go play and let’s go enjoy each other’s company,” said Richman, much to the delight of the children who did not know of his daughter before Dec. 14, 2012 but will now have a tangible connection to her for the rest of their lives.